Oct 262020
 

It doesn’t say so, but A1710’s rhum “Brute,” stuffed into a bottle at a rip snorting 66%, is another example of a mini-terroire called a parcellaire – a single small section of an estate, like, oh the UF30E or the similar A1710 54.5% edition that was also issued in the year this was, 2017.  There are a few of these micro-terroire rhums floating around and while still uncommon, do show an interesting new direction for the rum world.  Though, for obvious reasons I don’t see them as becoming mass market products any time soon – more like exactingly made small batch artisanal rhums in the true sense, marketed to enthusiasts and connoisseurs.

To do that, however, depends on more than just slick marketing. The product actually has to taste good, be seen as out of the ordinary, and be able to showcase some small aspect of its company’s ethos and desire for quality. It’s got to be special. So far, I’ve seen nothing from A1710 that would do anything except lend support to that thesis, because the “Brute” is definitely one of the best white rhums around, even at that formidable strength. 

The canes used to make this rum all come from a single plot cultivated by a Mr. Paul Octave, with several varietals: black cane, yellow cane and Pen Epi Lèt. (More delicate and less robust than the hybrids which are cultivated for large-scale productions, these three types of canes are supposedly quite juicy). The cane juice is fermented for around five days, run through a creole 7-plate copper column still affectionately named “La Belle Aline”, is non-AOC compliant, and as far as I know, rested for some time but not aged or filtered or reduced in strength, resulting in 2,286 bottles of a 66% beefcake for the 2017 edition, all individually numbered.

The results of all that micro-management are amazing.The nose, fierce and hot, lunges out of the bottle right away, hardly needs resting, and is immediately redolent of brine, olives, sugar water,and wax, combined with lemony botes (love those), the dustiness of cereal and the odd note of sweet green peas smothered in sour cream (go figure).  Secondary aromas of fresh cane sap, grass and sweet sugar water mixed with light fruits (pears, guavas, watermelons) soothe the abused nose once it settles down.

It’s the taste that’s the real star of the show, the way this huge strength is tamed and made almost palatable. Yes it’s hot and spicy, but there’s a sort of smooth creaminess to the texture that permits it to be had neat and the high proof almost forgotten.  There’s salt and wax and light glue as before, combined with a sweeter note of marshmallows, light white fruits and it’s reminiscent of a watery fruit infusion to be had on a hot day on a tropical beach somewhere. There are other tastes of lychees, flowers, more fruits (heavier ones), cane sap, herbs (mint, perhaps a touch of sage and basil), but these dance around the central tastes and lend support rather than shouldering their way to the forefront, and the entire experience is really quite good, moving smoothly, almost sedately, inro a long, spicy and fruity finish that somehow preserves both strength and delicacy.

I really enjoyed the 54.5% La Perle, and scored it well, but the Brute is a cut even above that.  It’s a rum made by one guy on one parcel on one island and has a richness of aroma and flavour that it would seem almost a sin to put it in a barrel. The real money in the rum world is in utra-old  rums made by proud houses who reach back in time for barrels left to age for decades by generations past.  A1710 have shown that a brand new outfit, not adhering to a production standard of any kind, not even ageing what they come up with and simply releasing a rhum like this almost straight off the still, can provide us with something truly remarkable for an astoundingly affordable price.  For me, it’s worth every penny.

(#772)(88/100)


Other notes

Some historical background on A1710 is in the original La Perle review, adapted here:

A1710 was created in 2016 as a micro-distillery for Habitation Le Simon (not to be confused with the distillery of Simon, though they’re neighbors), which rubs shoulders with Clement on the mid eastern side of Martinique. The estate’s roots go back to 1710 when the founder, Jean Assier, arrived on the island (hence the “A” in the title) and founded the sugar plantation, which seems to have been family owned and operated as a sugar estate ever since. Yves Assier de Pompignan, the 50-year-old who created the brand and founded the distillery in 2016, first made a career in stationery and office supplies before accepting his True Calling, perhaps channelling the family heritage — a great-grandfather owned the current factory of Saint-James, a grandfather owned of rum brand, his father is a cane agronomist and he has connections with the Hayot family as well.

Dec 182018
 

White rhums – or blancs – were not products I paid much attention to back in the day, but over the last five years they have continually risen in my estimation, and now I consider them one of the key building blocks of the entire category.  Not the lightly-aged, blandly filtered and softly murmuring Spanish-style cocktail staples, you understand – those I regard with relative indifference. No, I mean stuff like the Mexican Paranubes, the Haitian Le Rocher, the Guyanese Superior High Wine, Japanese Nine Leaves Clear, Tahitian Mana’o White or the Surinamese Toucan White, to say nothing of the new crop out of Asia – Samai, Issan, Laodi, Sampan, Chalong Bay

What elevates these blancs and all their cousins above the regular run of whites is the way they often maintain a solid connection to the distillate of origin and the land from which they came.  They are usually unaged and unfiltered, commonly around 50% or better. Sometimes they’re raw and pestilential and shockingly rude, at other times they’re almost placid, hiding their bright tastes and clear profiles behind a wall of easy and deceptive complexity that takes time to tease out properly (and for both reasons causes them to be occasionally under-appreciated, I think).

Which brings me to the 55% ABV Habitation Saint-Étienne (HSE) Rhum Blanc Agricole that was distilled in Martinique in 2016 and bottled in 2018 (it rested in steel tanks for the duration and can therefore be seen as unaged). We haven’t talked about HSE for a while, but that doesn’t mean that the Martinique brand has been resting on its laurels, because it continues to produce much good rhum – all AOC compliant – and even taken the whites in a new direction. In this case, perhaps channelling Velier’s Uitvlugt East Field 30 from all those years ago, they selected a special type of sugar cane (canne d’or says the bottle, or “gold cane”, varietal designation R570) not just from their sugar estate in the middle of Martinique, but from a specific part of it – the Verger and Coulon plots of land, issued as a rhum they call Parcellaire #1.  So it’s a sort of micro version of HSE as a whole, showcasing a very small part of its terroire.

Aside from HSE, Longueteau, or the new kid on the island block — A1710 and their white La Perle — such atomized drilldowns into smaller subunits of an estate are almost unknown…but they are intriguing to say the least (even though it may all just be cool marketing – I like to think otherwise). Fortunately the way it smelled and tasted skated over such concerns.  The nose, for example, was quite fragrant, starting off with slightly rotten fruits (bananas), rubber, sawdust, set to a background of soft wax candle, all very restrained. Overall it was a little sweet and relaxed, and as it opened, additional notes of nuts, cereals, almonds and nougat came forward. There was also a hint of olives, brine, pineapple, sweet green peas and ripe oranges in an excellent melange that combined themselves very well, without any single aspect being particularly dominant.

Blanc agricoles’ tastes are usually quite distinct, showing variation only in the details.  This one was slightly different — very smooth, very light, the usual herbs and light citrus and grasses starting things off, just less crisp than one might be expecting. This seemed to be kind of nothing-in particular, but hold on a bit — the other, more complex flavours started to creep out.  Dill, sugar water, olive oil, cucumbers, watermelon, light pimentos and gherkins, all sweet enough not to be off-putting, salty/sour enough for some character. I thought it was really quite tasty, giving aged offerings from the same house some serious competition, and finishing things off with a fade that provided last memories of sweet sugar water, light delicate notes of cumin and watermelon and papaya.

Does that all work? Are the specific plots of origin really that clear? I suggest that as a showcase for such a tiny bit of land, for the general rum drinker, not really.  The differences between the regular run of blancs from HSE and this one can be chalked up to miniscule divergences deriving from batch variation rather than anything so refined.  Admittedly though, I’m not a professional sommelier, and lack the experience such people bring to sensing gradations of wine hailing from neighboring vinyards in France – so someone with a more finely tuned snoot may take more away from this than I did.

But I liked it.  I liked it a lot. Above, I wrote that really good whites are either cheerfully rude or deceptively polite:  this one tilts slightly more towards the latter while still remembering its objurgatory antecedents. It’s a enormously drinkable dram, near perfect strength, with wonderfully delicate and strong tastes mixing up both sweet and salt in a terrific white rhum.  You could drink it alone or mix it as you please, and you’d enjoy it either way, with nothing but a nod of appreciation for what HSE have achieved here with such seeming effortlessness. And for its price? This thing may just be an undiscovered steal.

(#580)(86/100)


Other notes

The Habitation Saint-Étienne 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, an energetic man 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.

May 302013
 

 D3S_5982

 

Concentrated black cake. Uitvlugt East Field #30 takes its place as the source of one of the best rums I’ve had this year.

In my rather tiny world, sourcing a rum like the Uitvlugt 1985 27 year old 60.7% is quite an experience. A rum limited enough, rare enough and old enough that to use a single appellation like “aged” to describe it is akin to saying Tolstoy wrote rather long books. The series of rums imported to Europe by Velier (these are DDL products selected by them in Guyana, not Europe) answers every beef I ever had about rums not being strong enough, addresses every complaint about a lack of imagination. Thus far, each of the full proof series has been spectacular, powerful, brilliant, exceptional, original and charges out of the bottle like a bat out of hell to give me all it has. This is what rums were made to be. This is what more rums should be. Want to go up against the Scots, boys? Want to give whisky some hard card? You’d better start making more of these.

Having established its pedigree as a rum massive as an oak tree flung by a F5 hurricane, what of it? It’s aged a magnificent 27 years in the tropics, losing 90% of its volume if Velier is to be believed, and powerful enough to brain a rampaging ox, but is it any good?

Mmmm. Yeah. It’s good. Nosing this torqued up full proof is, like, I dunno, trying to lasso a drunken moose: I mean, the rum is hard charging to a fault, practically an inhalation of supercharged testosterone — a quick sniff and my abs were instantly firm enough to do my laundry on, and I was casting restive glances at my wife. Thick, spicy smorgasbord of fruit notes led off right away: prunes, currants, raisins, blackberries lead in, followed by faint flowery notes, licorice, cloves, black unsweetened chocolate. I felt I was at the dessert buffet of some high class hotel restaurant. Heated, yes; spicy, almost; but you know, for a beefed-up rum like this, once the alcohol fumes blow off, you can’t help but be impressed with a nose this rich, where so much is going on all at the same time.

D3S_5993

Dark mahogany and ruby red tints coloured the spirit itself, which was a treacly, almost heavy liquid in the mouth. Here was a spirit that coated your tongue, your tonsils and your teeth and hung on with the tenacity of a junkie to a five dollar bill. Awesomely smooth for its strength, generously providing tastes of licorice, chopped dried fruit for Caribbean Christmas black cake, green grapes just starting to go, aromatic port-finished cigarillos…it’s deeply, darkly luscious to a fault. I tasted some of the oak tannins imparted by the long ageing, and in no way were they disconcertingly acidic or too sharp, but just right, leading to a long aromatic, finish as lasting as a diva holding a high C….like, forever. If this was a real opera, somewhere, Pavarotti would be feeling inadequate.

Even at 60.7%, which some might consider a bit much, the Uitvlught impressed with its mastery of blending art. Like its brothers (the Albion 1994 and the Diamond 1996), this rum is one of the tastiest, biggest, baddest, most fantabulistic spirits I’ve tried and that sound you heard was, quite simply, my mind being blown. Because this intensity is precisely why we should attempt to move past 40% in our rums – the strength of flavour and body, the commingled multitudinous tastes, simply invites sampling and more sampling, and then even more, just so you could check out what that last smidgen of flavour really was.

D3S_5994

Velier out of Genoa bought three barrels from DDL (they are in fact DDL rums though the labelling seems ambiguous), aged them for twenty seven years and, in line with other European makers, simply bottled them as they came out. The Velier line is really kind of fantastic – marques from Blairmont, LBI, Port Mourant, Albion, Skeldon, Enmore (and that’s just the Guyanese) are all available, if rarer than a compliment from my boss. I can’t begin to express my admiration for the series – there’s an unapologetic narcissism to them that doesn’t so much flip the bird at standard strength rums as ignore them altogether. Their rums are awesome – terrific nose, aggressive profile, epic finish.

And, at end, it may be self-defeating – it may simply be too much to be contained in a mere bottle. To have this rum burbling in your glass is to know what Godzilla’s captor might have felt like. By the time all the tasting notes have been wrung out, it may actually be a shade too amazing for those who prefer something a little less strong (like 40%). But you know what? I don’t care. The full proof rums from Velier are what they are. Not everyone will like them — their starkness and somewhat elemental brutality will be off-putting to many — but then, they are not for everyone. Verlier echoed the European ethos of simplicity and minimalism in their products, wrestled the white lightning out of the cask and trapped it in a bottle for those of us who care.

If you can find Velier’s rums, any of ‘em, my advice would be to buy them, and quickly. Because if you’re ever into rum for the long term, there will come a time (if it has not arrived already) where you’ll be so damned glad you did. I know I am.

And now, after writing this review and taking a last sip, I think I’ll go see what the wife is up to….assuming she hasn’t already fled.

(#165. 91/100)


Opinion

I’ve made no secret of my wistful disappointment of tame drinks that go exactly no place special and have a small sense of imagination. The question that arises, is why aren’t more iridescent gems like this one ever made? What’s keeping the rest of the world from following suit? Why aren’t Flor de Cana, DDL, Appleton, Mount Gay or others indulging some hi-test full proofs of their own, besides issuing the occasional 151? I suppose I can think of several reasons: they won’t sell; they’re seen as too exclusive; they’re tough to find; they don’t appeal to the young; they’re too strong; too expensive; too tough to make by labels content with what they are doing already; and market forces favour 40%.

There are special editions around, of course — lots of them, almost all made in Europe. The challenge is finding any. Perhaps nothing shows the potential of such a niche market as the speed with which such specialized bottlings by Bruichladdich, Gordon & McPhail, Fassbind, Bristol Spirits, Berry Bros., Velier, Silver Seal and Cadenhead fly off the shelves. They may languish in shops in North America, but I chose to believe it’s because they are not commonly available, not well known, and therefore remain a perceived nouveaux riche kind of pastime for crazies like myself.

So it’s not as if the full proof, limited-cask expressions don’t exist – they do. Here’s hoping the major bottlers in the West Indies and the Americas will follow suit and produce their own full-proof liquid machismo one day, the way Velier has done here, so magnificently.