Jun 032021
 

Photo provided courtesy of /u/HeyPaul. Used with permission, and thanks.

This is a rum whose label tickles the trivia gene lurking within me. So in the interest of science and the perhaps boring rehash of stuff some of you already know but some of you don’t, let’s go through the background and the details

First of all, that name. Like Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation putting the pictures of the old stamps he once collected on the labels of his rums, the makers of Penny Blue did the same. Not to be confused with the Two-Penny Blue issued in the UK (the second postage stamp ever made (in 1840, following the famed Penny Black), this one is the Mauritius issued version of 1847 which is now one of the rarest (and most valuable) stamps in the world. However this may be a matter of interests only for pedants, philatelists and unread rum reviewers like this blogger.

Secondly, the Batch 002. What is it? Well, so far as I can determine, it’s a follow-up from Batch #001 (natch), a run of 7,000 bottles deriving from 22 casks matured on Mauritius at the premises of the Medine distillery (see below). Of these 22 casks, 7 each were ex-whisky, ex-cognac and ex-bourbon, and the last one was Batch #001 stock mixed back in. The ages are varied though, and I don’t know the true age of the blenda product sheet I’ve seen makes mention that the oldest portion of the rum is 11 years old (but not how much that is), and the youngest portion 5 years.

Third, the distillery. Most know (or at least have heard) of the Harels and the Grays, the makers of New Grove (and Lazy Dodo), and I have written about rums from Chamarel and St. Aubin. There are also lesser known distilleries like Labourdonnais (Rhumerie des Mascareignes) and Ylang Ylang (which does not make rum), as well as the Medine Distillery, founded in 1926. It’s suggested that it actually owns two facilities: it’s own original sugar factory and distillery in Bambous in the west of the island, and its acquisition via JV in February 2000, of International Distillers who made the Tilambic 151, though I cannot trace their distillery’s location, just their distribution officemaybe it’s been shut down and consolidated.


Photo courtesy of /u/HeyPaul. Used with permission.

All right, so, we have a rum, a blend, 43.2% ABV, released around 2014 or so (it’s amazing that this is mentioned nowhere, btw), column still, a 5-11 year old blend released by Indian Ocean Rum Co., which is a collaboration with Berry Bros. & Rudd, who also assisted in its development. All that plus the overlong intro suggests a rum of uncommon quality for which I would have a page and a half of tasting notes. Alas, no. Because the rum, good as it is, feels somehow less serious, by today’s standards of high-proofed single estate bottlings. Take the nose: it is warm and light, quite fruity, and more than a touch sweetnotes of peaches and cream, orange peel, mint chocolate and rather stronger aromas of butterscotch, caramel, vanilla, and some leather and smoke. Letting it open up provided some additional hints of crushed almonds and breakfast spices, nothing more than a breath, really.

Fruitiness was more evident and welcome on the palate; it was an easy sip, no surprise at that strength, but surprisingly dry and quite supple to tryno discomfort or real sharpness mars the experience of drinking it neat. One can taste bananas and citrus peel, some tart gooseberries and strawberries, vanilla and breakfast spices again. Smoke and leather mingle well with cumin and cardamom and it remains arid throughout (not unpleasantly so). A few cereals, crushed nuts and light molasses round out a pretty well-balanced profile. The finish is the weak point, as it tends to be for rums at standard strengthtremulous and wispy, and over way too quick, it’s all you can do to track some orange peel, oakiness, and a touch of vanilla and nutmeg.

A rum like this is something of a study in contrasts. At first it doesn’t seem like much. It takes effort to disassemble, and if you’re used to stronger and more forceful rums, it may appear like nothing in particular. This would be a mistake. It’s quite a bit more complex than it’s warm easiness suggests. Initially it tastes simple and faint, nothing to see here people, move along pleasebut it gathers some momentum and complexity as it opens up, and ends up (finish aside) as quite a nice little sipper. Reminds me of a Latin American rum with an edge, or a lightly aged rum from Guadeloupe. This is not enough for me to rate is as high as others did, but I can’t dismiss it out of hand as some sort of low end crap either, because it’s got too much going on and is too well balanced to merit such a casual dismissal.

(#826)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • My sincere thanks to the reddit user /u/HeyPaul who very kindly gave me permission to use his pictures, which were much better than my rather blurry ones.
Apr 292018
 

Rumaniacs Review #076 | 0506

Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, now owned by Diageo, has been a poster boy for adulteration, over-sweetness and confusing (misleading?) labels for the entire time I’ve been reviewing rums. The current late-2010s edition of the Centenario 23 (first introduced in 1976 and now dropping theAños”) is still a crowd favouritebut here we have an older vintage, back when the wrapped bottle was still in vogue (Rum Nation copied it for the Millonario 15 when Zacapa discontinued it some years ago)…and if scuttlebutt is to be believed, this thing really is 23 years old, before they started solera-izing it in the current iterations. But about that I have my doubtsI respectfully submit it was always a solera, and it’s just that as everyone found out about it the label had to be changed.

ColourAmber

Strength – 40%

NoseQuite thick and rich, redolent of brown sugar, chocolate, molasses and coffee. Not overly complex, little in the way of additional flavours, except for some toblerone, vanilla, cinnamon and honey. Some sherry and vague fruity notes.

PalateSoft, very easy, almost no bite at allI’d call it unadventurous. Walnuts and raisins mixing it up with chocolate and toffee with a little alcohol. A faint bitterness of black tea, some honey, vanilla, a few raisins, brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon….overall, not so much tamed as simply easy, no effort required. However, note that it’s not as sweet as the current versions available on the market, just sweet enough to be noticeable.

FinishShort warm and smooth, mostly caramel, a little (very little) fruit, coffee and liqueur. Gone in a heartbeat, leaving not even a smile behind.

ThoughtsI can see why it remains a crowd pleaser, but the decision to stop with this blend and go with themodernZacapas now on sale was (in my opinion) a mistake. This slightly older version of the rum is marginally better, has at least some character and isn’t destroyed by additives or sweet quite as badly. Even so, it remains a rum to appeal to the many rather than the few, and all it remains for the dedicated is a pleasant after-dinner digestif as opposed to something to place on the top shelf.

(75/100)

 

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer. They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier. It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever madeit’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the startdeep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts wellsalty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke. All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being soundedbut underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old. It left meuneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested itand the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle). But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows aboutso why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend? Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash? I mean, wtf, right?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives). It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy. Jaded rumistas will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-downtoo well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.” Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decentbut only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicornwhich probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live. Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these. It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XOwhich can be found practically everywhere and is known around the worldbut it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%). Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds ruma better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely. For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptionalthough admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way. It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste. It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known. Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembledbut originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me. The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfomingmore than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely rightthe rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados. What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both. Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Jan 052017
 

Laid-back, but not lazy

#333

The dodo, as most of us are well aware, is the subject of such well known epigrams as being dead as one; it remains a fixture of popular culture and language, often seen as a symbol of obsolescence, stupidity and (naturally) extinction. It is therefore something of an odd emblem for a rum company to use as its name and symbol, unless it’s considered so firmly associated with Mauritius that bird and island are seen as synonymous (which I don’t believe for a moment). So aside from the officially stated purpose of the logo raising awareness of endangered species, perhaps what we see here is also a sense of humour at work, especially since modern scientists suggest that the dodo was actually quite well adapted to its ecosystem, and it was invasive species and humans that ended up wiping it outthe bird was nowhere near as dumb as we are given to think.

Anyway, as a marketing strategy, that name works like a charm, since, as soon as I saw it in Berlin in 2016, I beelined straight over to try it, because come on, with a title like that, how could I possibly resist? It’s like telling any Guyanese male that there really is a vodka brand called IPRall of us would instantly buy a case.

Lazy Dodo Single Estate Rum (to give it the full name on the label) is made by the Grays of New Grove Rum fame (run by the Harel family that I wrote about in the New Grove 8 Year Old review) and the Milhade family who are wine makers out of Bordeaux. What background literature exists suggests that the collaboration is more in the way of knowledge sharing than strict apportioning of labour, since the cane and harvesting and processing and ageing all take place on the Pampelmousses estate in Mauritius, though perhaps the sales network in France owes something to the efforts of the Millhades who have a stronger prescence in Europe. The amber-coloured 40% ABV molasses-based, column-still product is a blend of rums aged 5, 8, and 12 years and aged in both new and used American and French oak barrels (hence the moniker “double maturation” on the label). Oh, and no additives, so I was informed. It had its coming out parties 2016 in the rum festival circuit and seemed to be quite popular, if one were to judge from the “Sold Out” sign posted up on the second day of the Berlin RumFest.

That didn’t necessarily mean it was a top tier rum, just one that was popular and very easy to drink. Nose-wise it actually presented as rather sweet and had notes of green grapes and pineapple and ripe mangoes, which I thought may have been a little over the topthere was very little of a “standard” profile here, though what was available to smell was in no way unpleasant, just rather mild, even understated.

Similar thoughts passed through my mind on the tasting. At 40% it was a defanged sort of rum, medium bodied, and the sweetness was retained, with that and the blending rounding off any rough edges it may have started life with. There were the same grape-like tastes, less pineapple here, and as it opened up (and with some water) vaguely crisper flavours emergedcitrus, red grapefruit, cider, apples, followed by some vanilla, creme brulee and soft toffee notes. It closed off short and warm, with little of the tartness carrying over into the finish, just caramel, some light citrus and nuts, and a touch of vanilla.

While I can’t rave about it, at the end of the day it’s a relaxed, laid back, unaggressive (dare I say “lazy”?) sort of sundowner, nothing earthshakingat best it made my glass wobble a bit. Aside from enjoying its placid nature I’m merely left curious as to which market it was made for. The Europeans with their penchant for more forceful drinks and robust profiles trending towards the agricole market? Tourists? Denmark, home of the cask-strength-loving vikings? The North Americans who mostly consider standard proof to be the rumiverse? Connoisseurs, barflys, cocktail makers? Hard to say. I consider it a pretty good day-to-day sort of rum, well made and reasonably complex, if lacking anything that specifically screams “Mauritius” about it. But whatever the case, it probably won’t go the way of its namesake any time soonit’s too decent a rum for that, and will likely be the beesknees for those who succumb to its light and languorous charms.

(79/100)

 

Aug 232016
 

D3S_3843

The finishing regime of this rum may not work for all comers, but does at least create a decent aged product from a well-known still.

This is quite an international rum – made in Guyana, shipped to the UK by an Italian importer and bottled by a Dutch company. Boote Star is a Dutch bottler (actually called the Associated Distillers Group), about which there is maddeningly little hard information, aside from the fact that (a) they also have a ten year old, and (b) they appear to have sourced the rum from an Italian distributor and distiller called Distilleria Dellavalla situated to the northwest of Genoa. That little outfit seems more interested in making grappa than rum, so it’s anyone’s guess how they came upon a barrel of PM distillate, unless it was to age one of their grappas, and then they had to the problem of what to do with the rum that came in barrels (my conjecture). Much like the various low end expressions of Navy or Demerara rums issued in Canada, Boote Star – no matter how they got the rumessentially issued its own version of a PM rum, perhaps hoping to take some shine off of more established and better known companies.

D3S_3844Its main claim to fame is the age, a very impressive twenty years old (five years in Guyana and the remainder in Scotland): at a time when rum makers are trending more towards low teens, to see something this old is quite an achievement in itself, though I feel that the rum was undone by the makers doing the finish in port and sherry casks, which had a powerful influence over the finished product that it didn’t really need. Naturally, in keeping with the rather bizarre lack of information surrounding the thing, there’s no indication of the ageing regimen in detail, or how much time it spent finishing, and in which casks, so let’s just accept this with a shake of the head at the lack of anything resembling a marketing effort, and move on.

The nose immediately suggested the licorice woody fruitiness of the Port Mourant; it lacked the beefcake power of full proof Veliers (no surprise), and the single minded purity of both those and the ~45% Rum Nation products. Still, it presented well, almost sweetish, with ripe bananas, honey, licorice and oak tannins leading the charge. It didn’t stop there either, and as it developed, added cherries, orange zest, some vanilla and molasses, which in turn morphed easily into the tartness of apples and almost-ripe pears – yet none of these scents, were in any way heavy or thick, but relatively light – maybe it was the lack of strength? Possibly. Overall, the nose was delicious, if a little jagged.

The taste showed up some of the rums shortcomings, and I’ll go on record as suggesting it may have been doctored over and beyond the sherry/port cask finishing – it was a lot heavier than the nose had suggested, and somewhat sweeter than expected: dark pipe shag, black tea, dollops of molasses-laden brown sugar, and the characteristic anise and licorice of the wooden stills. Whatever raw pot-still aggro a higher proof might have showcased more effectively, was tamed by the 43% at which it had been issued. It suggested more funky complexity than it displayed, I thought, as it threw black grapes and lightly salted red olives in brine to the mixyet the overarching impression was one of potentially more: better tastes just outside the reach of the senses to detect. They were there, shy, reticent. faintjust not arrogantly so, and the tannic and tart notes of other components only partly came to the fore to round things out. Basically, the rum had been dampened down too much by a lack of strength and the fruitiness of the port and sherry finishing, hiding what could have been a great stage for displaying the PM profile (which I really enjoy); and it led to a short finish that reinforced the molasses and anise tastes, without being allowed to add anything more subtle or enticing to the mix as it wrapped up – and that’s a shame for a rum that started out so decently.

This is one of the more off-the-beaten-track PM variations to cross my path, and there are few other products from the still to which I can reasonably compare it (Rum Nation’s Demeraras may come closest, though I think those are better). Having been conditioned to more elemental, stronger, more intense profiles, that made me like it somewhat less, yet I could not entirely tell you it’s a bad buy – this is a rum where the finishing created a mélange that lesser makers would have tried with sugar and additives, none of which I sensed on this one.

D3S_3844-001

So, I’m scoring it as I do to express both my appreciation for its decent heft and body and some good introductory tastes, and the potential of a profile which unfortunately never gelled. My personal feeling is that it could have been much more if the makers had stopped messing around with the fancy finishing altogether, and just gone with the profile that the stills could have given on their own. For that kind of age, and with what they’ve managed to do even here, it could conceivably have ranked quite a bit higher.

(#296)(84/100)


Other Notes:

  • I really wish people would do their research: Guyana is the post independence spelling of the country’s name; before May 1966 it was called British Guiana. There has never been a British Guyana.
  • Bottle courtesy of Henrik of RumCorner, who also provided the biographical details. For what it’s worth, he liked it a lot less than I did.
Sep 202015
 
Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

An agricole that bends the rules just enough to be original, without dishonouring its antecedents. What a remarkable rhum.

In between the larger and more well known independent bottlers lurk smaller operators pursuing their own vision. Some, like Old Man Spirits, or Delicana, fight the good fight without undue recognition or perhaps even real commercial success. Others seem to find a more workable middle road. Chantal Comte is one of these, an eponymous company run by a bright and vivacious lady who Cyril of DuRhum interviewed earlier in 2015. I first saw some of her products in 2014, bought some more out of Switzerland, and now keep an eye out for anything else the lady makes, because, almost alone among the independent bottlers, her company specializes in agricoles and pays no mind to the larger market of molasses based rums. That gives her rhums a focus that seems to pay huge dividends, at the price of being relatively unknown and relegated almost to bit-player status in the broader rum community.

Born in Morocco into a family with West Indian connections, Ms. Comte started out as a winemaker in the early 1980s, in Nimes. Martinique influenced her interest in rhum, and through the decades she was mentored by two major players in the agricole world, André Depaz of the Mount Pelee plantation, and Paul Hayot (the Hayot family company took over the Clement distillery, you will recall). In the mid eighties this interest developed to the point where she began blending and bottling some of Depaz’s rhums (with André’s encouragement) and stuck with a philosophy of blending the original vintages, sourced from all over the French West Indies, and bottled at natural strengthwhatever was felt to be appropriate to the final expression.

What I had here, then, was a bourbon finished 46.5% amber-coloured AOC Martinique rhumthe questions for me were, which plantation and how old, because Martinique has quite a few different agricole makers and Ms. Comte bottles several. But then the fine print on the label showed it was L’Habitation Saint-Etienne, so mystery solved. How old? No idea. The rhum is a blend, and comprises several different vintages from HSE: there is no detail on whether the blend was itself aged or not, and how long the bourbon finishing regimen was. It was probably an XO, six years old at least, and honestly, I felt it was likely older than that. On the other hand, I was informed that all vintages are derived from small creole column-still distillates (much like most of the French island agricoles) aged in limousin oak before final transferrence to bourbon barrels for the final finishing and blend. No additions, no filtration, and the AOC designation remains.

D3S_8953

These days I don’t write much on presentation unless there’s something intriguing (or irritatingcheap corks and tinfoil caps are pet bugbears of mine). Still, I’d like to comment on the beefy barroom bottle, similar to Rum Nation’s, as well as the wooden box, which certainly gets my nod of approval, given the thing costs over a hundred eurosI’ve never discarded my feeling that when one pays a fair bit of coin, then one is entitled to a fair bit of bling, and here the delivery is just fine. (Note to wife: makes a great gift at Christmas).

On to the rhum, then. Amber coloured, remember, and middling strength. Pouring it out was almost sensuous, it even felt thicker than usual. It nosed well, and smelled heavenlyinstant green lime zest mixed with softer vanillas, plus eucalyptus and that characteristic grassy cleanliness that so mark agricoles. I remember looking at my glass in some amazement, wondering how the soft and the sharp scents could meld so well. Trust me, they did. As it opened up cinnamon, rosemary and riccotta cheese came out, and there was a growing background of ripe fruits from the bourbon barrels tapping my tonsils to say “Oywe’re here.”

For a rum this light in colour, it was also pleasantly deep (though not heavy a la Port Mourant or Caroni, it was too fresh and clear for that) – somewhat stinging initially, even harsh, so watch out. And also, be warnedthere’s an opening salvo of cordite and firecrackers in here, a gun-oil kind of metallic note; not strong enough to overwhelm subtler tastes that were waiting in the wings, and they died away quicklybut it did make my hair curl for a moment. More traditional tastes followed in swift, balanced unison, trip-trapping across the palatesemi-sweet fresh fruit, lemon-grass, ripe mangos, papaya, vanilla, ginger (very faint). It began to trend towards driness as it trailed off, and the finish just confirmed thatfairly long, heated, arid, and last flavours of grass and mild zest to round things off.

Honestly, I don’t know how they managed to meld the offbeat metallic notes with sharp citrus, clean grasses and soft fruits all at once and wrap it all up in a bow of tannins that were kept in check, but they did it, and the result is really worth trying. I liked it partly on the strength of that originality, and indeed, it was on the basis of this one rhum, that I bought their 1977 45% and 1980 58% Trois Rivieres editions as well. It’s a little offbeat, marching to its own tune, and if it’s not quite as insane as the certifiable Clairin Sajous, well, I guess they thought that they had taken enough risks with their client base for one day, and pulled in their horns

My experience with independent bottlers is that they usually come to rum after dabbling in the obscure Scottish drink and only later discovering the True Faith. Ms. Comte took a different path, starting out with wine (she owns the Château de la Tuilerie which she inherited from her father, and until recently, ran the winery there). It’s debatable what specific skills can be transferred from one spirit to another: yet, if other editions put out by her company are on par with or better than this rather interesting and remarkable rhum, all I can say is that I hope more wine makers move over to rhums, and quickly.

(#233. 86/100)


Other notes

  • Big hat tip to mon ami Cyril of DuRhum, who not only wrote the initial interview with Ms. Comte, but proofed my initial post.

 

Sep 142015
 
Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

An unaggressive, bright and clear, sipping-quality rhum agricole that can serve as a bridge between traditional molasses rum and agricoles.

Clément holds the dubious distinction of providing one of the first agricoles I ever tried. That was five years (and some change) ago. At the time when I tried that Tres Vieux XO, just about the top of their range, I remember the clarity and smooth brightness of it, and how it flirted with a molasses profile without ever stepping over the line. That rhum was a blend of three exceptional years’ production…the Hors D’Age I was trying this time around was supposedly a blend of the best vintages of the past fifteen years. On the basis of such remarks are high prices charged. Note the “hors d’age” statement – what that means in principle, is that the rhum is aged between three and six years, which strikes me as absurd for a bottle costing in the €90+ range. Still, it is an AOC rhum, Clément is enthusiastic abut the care with which they assembled it, and all in all, it’s a pretty decent dram.

Clément has a long history, dating back to 1887 and the purchase of domaine de l’Acajou by Homère Clément. Initially it just produced sugar and raw alcohol, but the demand for liquor durting the first world war persuaded him to upgrade to a distillery in 1917. After the death of Homère, his son Charles took over the business. Credited with developing (some say perfecting) the company’s rhum agricole methodology, he studied distillation at the Louis Pasteur School in France, and named the first bottlings after his father. He subsequently expanded the company by instigating mass exports to France, which became the company’s primary market outside the Caribbean. When he died in 1973, his sons took over, but thirteen years later they sold the Acajou distillery to another Martinique business owned by family friends (Groupe Bernard Hayot, one of the largest family businesses in France), who have kept the brand, heritage and plantation intact and functioning and modernized. The company gained the AOC designation in 1996.

Agricoles, of course, even the aged ones, trend towards a certain clarity and lightness to them…one might even say sprightly. The nose on the Homère Cuvée broke no new ground, while still being quite delicious to sniff. It presented a tasty mix of the tartness of freshly pressed apple juice (almost cider-like), and softer tastes of under-ripe apricots, freshly sliced. Some vague grassy hints wafted around, very much in the background, and after a few minutes traces of nuts and yellow mangoes and a little leather and waxy stuff rounded things out. It was quite soft and smooth, with very little sting or bite to it.

The golden rum was equally gentle to taste, providing very little aggressiveness even at 44% (unless it was just me and my palate being fireproofed by stronger drinks). The feel on the tongue was quite pleasant, gentle and easy-going to a fault. It started out smooth and then morphed to something drier over time. Sharper tastes of lemon dueled it out with more apples, mint-leaves and green grass, some brine and dates, all of which came together really well, with additional breakfast spices, cinnamon and hazelnuts being in evidence…even some chocolate. I found it, in fact, to be somewhat similar to the XO (they were side by side, so I tasted them both simultaneously, one to inform the other), just not quite as good. Still, even after all those tastes, there was still some faint traces of leather and smoke to round things out, and while I won’t swear to a tinge of molasses in there, it certainly felt like it. The fade was sweet and aromatic, smooth and warm, pretty short, some wood, leather, chocolate and citrus ending the experience.

There’s enough good stuff trapped in the bottle to please, even satisfy, just insufficient excitement to make it a ultra-remarkable drink that would score higher. Of course, chosing which vintages to blend into a rhum like this presents its own difficulties to the makers, and I’d never say it was bad rhum: my feeling is simply that the Cuvée had more modest goals than the rather more impressive XO, and aimed no higher. Did I like it? Yes. Enjoy it? Surely. It’s a really well-made AOC rhum for those who like agricoles and displays the hallmarks of time and care and blending expertise. So when I say you won’t feel short-changed by the Cuvée, that’s entirely true…what you won’t be is seriously challenged. Still, just because it doesn’t rise to the heights of its predecessor is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. It’s a worthy addition to the brand.

(#232 / 85/100)


Other notes

  • It’s possible that this rhum has been made in order to replace the sadly discontinued XO. Some people disliked the XO (I was initially not enthused myself, though my appreciation grew over the years), and there’s a whole FB thread about varying opinions on the matter; the cynic in me thinks that by not stating which vintages comprise the blend, it allows Clément the freedom to sidestep the issue of what happens when those vintages run out…unlike with the XO, where they couldn’t mess with the assembly because everyone knew which years’ production was inside. I hope the silence on the components of the Homère is more a trade secret than an end run around the buying public.
Feb 152015
 

Photo Courtesy DuRhum.com

 

This is a pricey and very good rum that should have had the guts to go higher than its issued strength; but you’ll still be extremely happy with what you get, because there’s a lot going on until it runs out of steam at the finish.

Indulge my love of history for a while: La Favorite is a small family owned distillery in Martinique which has an annual rum production of around 600,000 litres (as comparative examples, Bacardi sells in the tens of millions and the craft maker Rum Nation somewhere less than 200,000). The original sugar plantation was initially called “La Jambette” for a small adjacent river, and was renamed in the mid-19th century with the establishment of the distillery that exists to this day (anecdotes refer to the islanders calling it their favourite rhum, or Napoleon himself remarking it was his, but who knows). The company ran into financial difficulties in 1875 (maybe this was due to the establishment of the French 3rd Republic, and the defeat of the monarchists whom the planters supported, but I’m reaching here). Somehow the plantation limped along until 1891 when a hurricane did so much damage that the whole operation was shut down for nearly twenty years. Production recommenced in the early 20th century when Henri Dormoy bought the company and added a railway line through the plantation. The boost given by the first world war allowed La Favorite to become truly commercially viable and it has been chugging along ever since, still using steam powered distillery apparatus, hand-gluing the labels to the bottles, and manually applying the wax over the top. But a Bacardi it will never be, and it doesn’t want to be – indeed, La Favorite’s unstated mission is to perfect natural rhum (i.e. agricoles), adhere fiercely to the AOC rating, and sniff disapprovingly at mass produced industrial rums.

Having tried the ~€200 40% Cuvée Privilège – that sterling gentleman from DuRhum, Cyril, sent me a generous sample – I can only say that they’re on to something, because while it sure looked like a molasses based rum, dark mahogany shot through with tints of red, it was nothing of the kind – I’m still scratching my head wondering how they accomplished that three-card trick. Consider too the aroma: licorice, anise and dark ripe plums led off right away, rich and dark…it’s like they were channeling a Mudland rum, and to say this was unusual for an AOC agricole would be understating the matter. Even waiting a while and going back to it, didn’t change my mind much: there were few vegetal notes or the grassiness of a real agricole; further scents of peaches, overripe pineapple, raisins and a bit of vanilla came through, and some serious grape background. Yet this feintiness was well balanced and the overall scent was warm and enticing as a feather bed in winter (with RuPaul inside). I remember thinking that if Downslope had had some patience (like about a generation, so perhaps not) they might have come up with something like this, because what they abysmally failed to do with their six months of ageing, or what the Legendario had handled so excessively, La Favorite succeeded in making here.

So the nose was excellent, rich and romantic. With the palate I had more concerns, because here is where I detected more potential than achievement – which was still a cut or two above the ordinary, let me hasten to add. It’s just that with a rhum this rich and toasty, I have to question the decision to tone it down as much as they had. Still, this is not to dismiss the Cuvée Privilège out of hand…far from it, because the almost-full-bodied heaviness of the profile gave back what the pusillanimity of the strength took away. Thick mouthfeel, again redolent of sweet ripe plums. Raisins and licorice abounded, wound about with black grapes and kiwi fruit, all quite sweet – I honestly cannot recall such depth since trying my last Port Mourant vintage. So while 40% was, to my mind, too weak, and would have imparted some real intensity and impact to the experience, I had to acknowledge that as a sipping rum requiring no padding or push-ups, the Cuvée Privilège did not disappoint. For all its foregoing quality, it’s real weak point may be in the finish, because here the rounded softness of the palate and nose gave way to timid and vacillating notes of nothing-in-particular, which repeated what had gone before without breaking any new ground: medium length, gone all to soon, with just more of the black grapes, anise and a faint vanilla dusting.

The question arises, why the price tag? Usually at this level of cost, we expect a rhum that is tottering along on its last legs, within a whisker of dropping down dead of old age; or a phenomenal year’s output (a millesime), or simply a rare rhum, long since out of production, now existing only in a collector’s memories (and maybe his safe). Well, here it really is the age: the Cuvée Privilège is a Très Vieux (“very old”) which usually is a term for something in the ten year old range…but not with this rhum. The Cellar Master of La Favorite created a blend of rums aged in oak barrels for thirty and thirty-six years (some reportedly in cognac barrels – I was unable to establish whether this was a finish, all barrels, or just some) and the issue is limited to 2000 bottles per year, with the ratios of each age carefully controlled to not let either one predominate. I’ve had quite a few aged rums roughly thirty years old – most of which were stronger – but it’s hard to argue with what La Favorite have achieved here.

I thought the rhum was damned impressive, no matter how discombobulated my impression of its profile was with the reality of its make, or my whinging about its strength. Cuvée Privilège is a well-rounded, remarkably aged rum, with solidly diversified taste, and perhaps power reined in a shade too much. It’s easy to confuse with other rums that are not agricoles. At the end, it showcases something of La Favorite’s own romantic philosophy, I think, and by doing so almost proves that no industrial conglomerate could make something like it. The philosophy which we might deny in the flat, bland daylight of our lives, but admit, childlike, to ourselves at nightthat magic exists, that it can be made, that it occasionally rises to the surface like the creature in Bradbury’s “Foghorn”. And if it doesn’t, well, it should, and we should always act as if it can appear, like our dearest dreams and fondest hopes. Like this rum has, from the depths of a cellar master’s imagination, missing only a few steps to be even better than it is.

(#202. 87/100)


Other notes

  • I score this rum at 87, mostly for failing on the fade, and its lack of strength. Were this to be jacked up a few notches, it would rate at least three or four points higher.
  • Though as noted, the rhum is a blend of a 30 and a 36 year old, I name it a thirty year old based on the youngest part of the blend, even if La Favorite choses not to.
  • I have an outstanding email to La Favorite asking them to clarify the barrels used, and any additions to the blend that might have imparted the unusually dark colour, and the profile
  • Photo shamelessly cribbed from DuRhum.com (thanks Cyril)

 

Dec 012010
 

 

Original Post Date 01 December 2010 on Liquorature.

(#013)(Unscored)

Workable blend that makes for a perfectly solid mixer without shining in any other way, except to maybe pip the low-end Appletons. Best save for the 1919 version.

***

Royal Oak Select Rum is another one of those annoying rums that tell you nothing about how old it is, which instantly informs you it’s a blend. I don’t care much for whisky, as my humourous posts have made clear (I think the Peat Heads are misguided, but innocently so, and may be dint of effort and tender ministrations be brought to understand the error of their ways), but I do appreciate the fact that every bottle has its age on it. As a rule of thumb, I assume that when this is not the case on rum bottles, then it is less than five years old. Cadenhead Green Label is an exception, of course.

A golden rum, Angostura is young (3-6 years, nothing more definitive), made in Trinidad by the same folks who are now producing the once-superlative but now downgraded Zaya 12 year old, but not a on par with that voluptuous lass. Like with all single-digit rums (SDRs, as I call them), it lacks the polish and finish of older siblings (yes, yes, with the exception of the fabled EH-5), and I think it is not distilled for the export market, really. Therefore it may be best used as a mixer.

Still, even for young rum, this baby has its admirers, and I’m one of them. I wouldn’t drink it straight, since it’s a bit too harsh on the tongue and throat for thatthe younger parts of the blend certainly assert their prescence early on. But the nose has an interesting hint of citrus, and intriguing caramel overtones develop more seriously on further tasting, together with coconut and a certain mellow spiciness. The body is quite good, with a sort of oiliness that leads to a long lasting flavour. The finish is medium short, quite a bit of burn, but the caramel sweetness remains, mixed with a faint nuttiness. It’s a bit richer in flavour than I had expected, and while I don’t expect that much from an SDR, its strength (43%) and dominating sugar-caramel aftertaste belie the light colour and make it a good choice to go head to head 1:1 with coke.

In summary, a decent mixer about on par with an Appleton V/X but with its own profile and a stronger taste and slightly smoother finish, so not as low-tier as the Bundaberg (which I have gone on record as not appreciating). Anyone who buys this is not scraping the bottom of the barrel by any means.

Note: I must go on record to express my appreciation to Keenan who raided his pantry to provide me with this bottle to sample. He finds it highly amusing to watch while I try to stay sober and drink four of his rums at the same time.