Aug 052021
 

Most independents who release rhums from Savanna, that distillery on Réunion which until five years ago was practically in rum’s ultima Thule, stick with their agricolesthe cane juice rhums, for which the distillery (and indeed the island) is best known. Once in a while a more adventurous indie will go and check out what they can do with their molasses based rums (like Rum Nation did with that badass 2011 7YO Traditionelle in 2018). Those occasional oddballs do succeed, but it’s the cane juice rhums that turn heads, because Savanna boosts and amplifies and juices them up to “12” by running them through the high ester still those boys use with such aplomb. And at the other end, some really good hooch gets wrung out.

Aside from Savanna’s own stable of rhumstheir expressions have bred like concupiscent lapinesthe indies and their audiences are having a field day with them. Rum Nation, as far back as 2016 and way ahead of the curve, had this one on the grid, and it was a good complement to their Caribbean expressionslaid down to rest in 2009, aged seven years and released to the festival circuit in 2016 and 2017. Surprisingly, almost nobody has reviewed the thing, which may simply be because of the lion’s share of the attention directed at Rum Nation was on other serious hooch on display that year: the Rares, the presentation-level Caroni 21 YO and that amazing 30 YO blended Jamaican, as well as the brawny 60.5% Traditionnelle, a year later.

So on the face of it, it seems to be another one of those really neat Rum Nation products that Fabio Rossi, the former owner, used to wryly refer to and toss off as “entry level”. 45% ABV, agricole, medium-youngish, nothing to write home about, Mommy would probably not be interested. And yet, and yet…it’s really quite a nifty piece of work.

Take, for instance, that lovely little nose it has. It is sweet, light, aromatic, with occasional whiffs of bubble gum and strawberries. There’s a touch of sweet rosewater and sugar cane juice, light caramel, nougat, almonds and marzipan. And as it opens up over the minutes (I kept this on the go for the best part of half an hour), it happily provides even more: citrus peel, pears, mangoes and green grapes. The estery touch of Savanna is there, never outsized or excessive, out to seduce not to bludgeon, and in that sense the strength is exactly right for its purpose.

The taste is where many rums show their chops and sink or swim: because not everyone really bothers to spend an inordinate amount of time nosing what is, in any event, a social drink. Happily, I can report that all is good here also: initial tastes of cereal, malty cream, seeming to be a dampened down and not as tightly crisp or tart as the nose suggests it might be. There are notes of fanta and citrus based fruit juices, hanging around with light vanilla, tamarind (this was a surprise), more marzipan, almost but fortunately never overstepping the point of vague bitterness. I must particularly mention the mint chocolate, oranges and a nice sweet creaminess at the back end, and the way it closed up shop: because that is where is many rums, satisfied they’ve given what they needed to, don’t think they need any kind of enthusiastic finale. Here we have a finish that is light, crisp, sleek, sweet and dry, nicely fruity (light cherries and pineapples slices in syrup), maintaining a delicate citrus action, adding some cereal hints, and ending the sip on a fading, demure note

This is a very impressive dram for something so relatively young and standard-proofed. It lacks the rough-hewn brutality of a full proof rum clocking in over fifty, yet it’s tasty as all get out, softly solid as a Sealy posturepedic, while paradoxically retaining a light and crisp character throughout all those fancy labial and olfactory perambulations. I think of it as an unappreciated little gem, and if still available, it’s a good buy. Sure, Savanna’s own Lontan and Grand Arome series are quite good (and the 2006 10 YO HERR remains spectacular), but you wouldn’t do yourself a disservice to try this one. It’s an approachable and affordable mid-range rhum that reeks esters while trying hard to pretend it doesn’t, all while serving up a strikingly lovely and winsome profile with sweetly understated verve and panache.

(#841)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Lots of unknown on this. The location of ageing is not precisely identified, though theAged in the Tropicson the back label strongly implies full Reunion ageing. Outturn is not mentioned, nor, surprisingly enough, is the distillery noted anywhere on the label. I was told Savanna back in the day (not Riviere du Mat or Isautier, the only other two distilleries on the island), and have an outstanding email to Fabio Rossi asking about the other details

 

Jul 262021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#839)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • For those who want more detailed background information, the company biography of Velier and the brief history of Pere Labat are both in the “Makers” section of this website.
Jul 222021
 

 

Poisson-Père Labat, who worked for the most part with blancs, blends and mid range rhums, came late to the party of millesime expressionsat least, so far as I have been able to establishand you’d be hard pressed to find any identifiable years’ rhums before 1985. Even now I don’t see the distillery releasing them very often, though of late they seem to be upping their game and have two or three top end single casks on sale right now.

But that has not stopped others from working with the concept, and in 2017 Velier got their mitts on a pair of their barrels. That was the year in which, riding high on the success of the classic Demerara rums, the Trinidadian Caronis and the Habitation Velier series of pot still rums (among others), they celebrated the company’s 70th birthday. Though it should be made clear that this was the company’s birthday, not the 70th year of Luca Gargano’s association with that once-unknown little distributor, since he only bought it in the early 1970s.

In his book Nomade Tra I Barili Lucawith surprising brevitydescribes his search for special barrels from around the world which exemplified his long association with the spirit, sought out and purchased for the “Anniversary Collection”; but concentrates his attention on the “Warren Khong” subset, those rums whose label designs were done by the Singapore painter. There were, however, other rhums in the series, like the Antigua Distillers’ 2012, or the two Neissons, or the Karukera 2008. And this one.

The rhum he selected from Poisson-Pere Labat has all the Velier hallmarks: neat minimalist label with an old map of Marie Galante, slapped onto that distinctive black bottle, with the unique font they have used since the Demeraras. Cane juice derived, 57.5% ABV, coming off a column still in 2010 and aged seven years in oak.

It’s a peculiar rhum on its own, this one, nothing like all the others that the distillery makes for its own brands. And that’s because it actually tastes more like a molasses-based rum of some age, than a true agricole. The initial nose says it all: cream, chocolate, coffee grounds and molasses, mixed with a whiff of damp brown sugar. It is only after this dissipates that we get citrus, fruits, grapes, raisins, prunes, and some of that herbal and grassy whiff which characterizes the true cane juice product. That said I must confess that I really like the balance among all these seemingly discordant elements.

The comedown is with how it tastes, because compared to the bright and vivacious effervescence of the Pere Labat 3 and 8 year old and the younger blends, the Velier 7 YO comes off as rather average. It’s warm and firm, leading in with citrus zest, a trace of molasses, aromatic tobacco, licorice and dark fruits (when was the last time you read that in a cane juice rhum review?), together with the light creaminess of vanilla ice cream. There’s actually less herbal, “green” notes than on the nose, and even the finish has a brief and rather careless “good ‘nuff” vibe to itmedium long, with hints of green tea, lemon zest, some tartness of a lemon meringue pie sprinkled with brown sugar and then poof, it’s over.

Ultimately, I find it disappointing. Partly that’s because it’s impossible not to walk into any Velier experience without some level of expectationswhich is why I’m glad I hid this sample among five others and tried the lot blind; I mean, I mixed up and went through the entire set twiceand Labat’s own rums, cheaper or younger, subtly equated or beat it, and one is just left asking with some bemused bafflement how on earth did that happen?

But it’s more than just preconceived notions and thwarted expectations, and also the way it presents, samples, tastes. I think they key might be that while the rhum does display an intriguing mix of muskiness and clarity, both at once, it’s not particularly complex or memorable – – and that’s a surprise for a rhum that starts so well, so intriguingly. And consider this also: can you recall it with excitement or fondness? Does it make any of your best ten lists? The rhum does not stand tall in either people’s memories, or in comparison to the regular set of rums Père Labat themselves put out the door. Everyone remembers the Antigua Distillers “Catch of the Day”, or one of the two Neissons, that St. Lucia or Mount Gilboabut this one? Runt of the litter, I’m afraid. I’ll pass.

(#838)(83/100)


Other Notes

Jul 122021
 

With all the publicity and attendant pictures, conversations, comments, posts and other media razzamatazz attendant on the big agricole makers of the French Caribbean islands, we sometimes overlook the smaller rhum makers there. Like their more famous siblings, they have also been around for decades and centuries and although they remain not so well known, not so warmly endorsed and not so widely trumpeted, they quietly chug along year in and year out, and make their own juicemaybe unheralded and unsung, but a boss drink by any standard.

One of these places is Distillerie Poisson-Père Labat on Guadeloupe’s southern island of Marie Galante, named after the 17th century Dominican friar who modernized sugar making technology in the French islands (he was the proprietor of the Domaine de Fonds-Saint-Jacques on Martinique and owned slaves there, which leads to a complex and problematic legacy). The small distillery is on the extreme west of Marie Galante, balancing off Bellevue in the east and Bielle and Capovilla in the centre, and I’m going to review four of their lesser known rhums over the next week or so.

Suffice to say, Labat has been in operation since 1916 as a distillery making rhum agricole (and as a sugar estate before that, since the 1860sit supplied a local factory nearby) and continues to distill its cane juice on a copper column still brought in from Barbados in 1934. Their rhums range from white (Labat 59º, 55º, 50º and 40º and a monster of 70.7º) to “Ambre” and “Boise” lightly aged from 6-18 months, and older versions aged 2, 3 and 8 years, and the top end millesimes and fancy pants editions aged more than ten.

The three year old reviewed first does not, then, provide any mysteries: it straddles the divide between the young ambre and boise rhums, and those of the more upscale aged expressions without any sort of attempt at exceptionalism, like its 2 YO cousin the L’Or. At 42% ABV it is less a Ti-Punch ingredient than something for tourists and those who like a young rums without fireworks to gently juice up a cocktail or something.

(c) Poisson-Pere Labat (Publicity photo) New Version 45% ABV

Yet there’s more going on here than immediately seems to be the case with a strength that low. It’s got a nose that is soft and herbaceous, redolent of acetones, varnish and more than a touch of turpentine and sugar water. It has the crispness of freshly aired laundry snapping on the line in the breeze of a hot summer day, tart white fruits (pears and guavas), bubble gum, plus the quick snap of lemon zest, and perhaps some crushed nuts. That’s really a lot of nose for a rhum so relatively anemic. I’ve made grumpy comments about standard strength wispiness before, but there’s little to find fault with hereit’s simply a delightful rumlet to smell.

Admittedly, the palate doesn’t quite drop the ball, though there is some drop-off in intensity now. It is a light and quiet and soft rhum, warm and delicately tasty, never losing its clarity or clean taste. This is all about precise watery fruitswatermelon, papaya, pears dripping juice, mingled niely with the tartness of a ripe soursop. There’s a touch of soda pop like Sprite and Fanta, sugar water, acetones, even the hint of some brininess (this stays very much in the background), before it all fades out into a very clear finish that’s mostly like Mike’s Hard Lemonade with some watermelon thrown in. It’s actually quite impressive.

It’s possible that this 3 YO is no longer made, since it doesn’t appear on the Labat websitenot an infallible indicator, since several other rhums they make aren’t there eitherand because it has almost completely disappeared from the online literature and conversation (I’ve sent a message to inquire). What I see is mostly about the 8 YO, the soleil, the 55º and the 70.7. That’s okay, those are good too, it’s just surprising to see something as well made as this almost-midrange rhum given such short shrift.

Never mind. If you find it, it may be pricey, as all agricoles are, relative to a molasses based rum of equal age. But I argue it’s well made, it’s tasty and for sure it’ll wake up the drink, a cocktail, a party (and maybe even you) at the same time. Plus, it can be had by itselfalmostand it won’t entirely disappoint taken neat. Not a top-tier rhum, it represents its own level quite nicely indeed and remains a rhum that does quite a bit more than you think it does. Like my wife, it doesn’t nag or jab or needle, only soothes and welcomesand in rhum terms, that quality might well be priceless.

(#836)(83/100)


Other notes

  • There are two versions of the 3 YO; the discontinued 42% ABV described here, and the current 45% ABV version. The switchover happened around 2018, as far as I know.
  • A biography of the company is available, too long to be ncluded here
Feb 232020
 

Recently we’ve looked at rums from Jamaica, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Japan, India, Australia, Guadeloupe, Haiti and Mauritius (and that’s just since the year began) which goes a far way to showcasing the incredible variety of the spirit. Today we’ll try something from Martiniqueand when one considers the fame of Saint James, home of the near legendary 1885 Rhum (one of oldest rhums I’ve ever tried) and from which I’ve tasted several old editions from the past, well, it’s a wonder I haven’t come here more often to try their current offerings.

At this time, the Saint James lineup consists of five blanc rhums (Imperial, Royal, the 55º, Fleur de Canne and the really quite amazing pot-still Coeur de Chauffe), two basic mixers (Rhum Paille Agricole, Rhum Ambré Agricole), nine more “tasting rhums” which are the aged variants of the 3, Vieux, XO, 7, 12, 15, Cuvee 1765, Cuvee d’excellence and Brut de Fut 2003and lastly, five “exceptional rhums” (their phrase, not mine), which are special editions, millesimes and so on.

Today I won’t aim for the stratosphere with some ultra-expensive halo rum from the top end which none but the 1% can afford, but just speak to the mid-range 7 Year Old. All the usual stats apply for a Saint James rhumAOC certified, cane juice origin, creole still, 43% strength, and nicely tropically-aged in small ex-bourbon casks.

What’s interesting about Saint James is not only the distinctiveness of their rhum here, but its divergence from what is almost seen as the sine-qua-non of rhum agricolethe grassy, herbal lightness of a cane juice distillate. Nowhere in the initial nose do I detect herbs and green grass and that light crispnessinstead, what I smell is luscious, sweet, and spicy, almost but not quite heavy with fruits. There’s preaches in syrup, pineapple, light anise, unsweetened yoghurt, coffee grounds, honey and vanilla, and later, also some cinnamon. I think you have to admit, for a 7 year old to have all that is really quite remarkable.

Ah but when sipped, all that changes, and the clodhoppers go away and it dons a pair of ballet slippers. It’s stunningly fragrant, not quite delicatethat ballerina does have an extra pound or twovery firm and robust in flavour profile. Just on the first sip you can taste flowers, pears, papaya, honey, vanilla, raisins, grapes, all pulled together with a delectable light and salty note. There are nice citrus hints, a tease from the oak, ginger and cinnamon, and overall, it sips as nicely as it mixes. The finish is well handled, though content to play it safethings are beginning to quieten down here, and it fades quietly without stomping on youand certainly nothing new or original comes into being; the rhum is content to follow where the nose and palate ledfruits, pineapple, spices, ginger, vanillawithout breaking any new ground.

So all in all, a really vibrant piece of tropically aged work, deserving many of its plaudits. I’ve noticed on many a social media post that people throw around the wordsgateway rumand apply it consistently to the oversweetened bestsellers like the Zacapas or some of the traditional Demeraras from DDL. Here’s one rum where the term really does apply, and what makes it so apropos is that there’s no messing around with the 7 YO Vieux, no enticement or blandishment with additives or fancy maturation or finishing (or those tiresome old made-up backstories). It’s simply a very good mid range rhum, drinkable, mixable, flexible, and its great quality might just be that it makes you want to go up the ladder to the older rums immediately, just to see what magic Mark Sassier has done with those. Now that’s a gateway that means business, and completely earns the title.

(#704)(83/100)


Other notes

  • The Fat Rum Pirate noted the odd lack of agricole-ness on the nose as well, in his 2018 4.5 star review.
  • It’s completely irrelevant, but Luca Gargano started his rum career working for Saint James as a brand ambassador in the 1970s, before buying Velier.
Aug 052019
 

Last week when discussing the Karukera “L’Expression” I remarked that something of the agricole-ness, the grassy and herbal notes we associate with cane juice rhums from the French islands, was missing there. To some extent the same thing could be said of the near-5000 bottles making up the limited outturn from various “select casks” (all fourteen of them) of this Black Bottle editionbut where I gave a guarded recommendation to the 2008 Rhum Vieux, here, I have to be more enthusiastic and say it’s one of the better rhums from Karukera I’ve triedthough not necessarily one of the best agricoles, for reasons that will become clear as we go on.

The brief stats behind it: a rum from Guadeloupe, made in Esperance distillery in the Domaine du Marquisat Sainte-Marie. Column still distillate aged seven years in ex-cognac casks, decanted into 4997 bottles in 2016 at 45%. I’ve also read that the distillate comes from the same canne bleue as the L’Expression, though the 2009 harvest here; and also that it’s grown on Karukera’s estate, not Longueteau’s (the two are neighbours and co-owned). And while I no longer pay much attention to appearance, I must comment on my appreciation for the black bottle and the striking black & white label design, sure to make it stand out on a shelf dominated by brightly-coloured labels from elsewhere.

Anyway, let’s begin. How was it? Based on how it smelled, I know that some would say it’s weak because of its near standard proofage and initially faint nose, but when sniffing it, I would say it’s actually closer to subtle. This is a rum that takes some concentration to come to grips with, because the aromas start quietly, gently and then become increasingly crisp over time, and the experience is the better for it. There’s wood and vanilla, strong black tea and anise, which gradually develops more fruity aspects, probably from the cognac barrels: pears, mangoes, oranges, both sweet and tart. I particularly enjoyed the late-blooming, rather delicate spicescinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, ginger plus more vanillaand the twist of citrus zest and winey notes that suffused the overall aromas.

The palate is different thoughnot quite a one-eighty, but certainly a shift in direction. Here the delicacy and subtlety was shoved aside and a more forceful profile emerged, warmer and firmer within the limitations of the proof, and all that in spite of the slightly herbal and grassy notes that were now more clearly discerned. Initially I tasted bitter chocolate, cherries in syrup, pears, mangoes, burnt sugar, black grapes, raspberries, cherries, nougat and even some background traces of molasses and honey and caramel. Combined with those spicesnutmeg and vanilla and cinnamon, againplus lemon zest and gooseberries, it melded tart and soft, intriguing enough to make one want to hurry through, and help oneself to more. I mean, there was really quit a lot going on here, if perhaps too much of the sweet influence of the cognac and the odd bitter tang of woodiness. The finish was finedry, again quite fruity, and rather short, mostly repeating the hits, more of the fruits than anything else, but always with that mellow chocolate and honey remaining in sight.

The Black Bottle 2009 has real quality and delicate sensibilities, and it adhered to many of the markers of a good rhum from anywhere: balance, complexity, a murmuring initial profile that builds to a reasonably complex palate and a decent finale. What it wasn’t was original, unique: it didn’t showcase the island or the estate in any specific way, and the woodiness and cognac casks really held a dominance over the final product that could have been tamed more. It’s therefore too good to dismiss as “just another agricole” (as if that were possible with any of them): but just distant enough from perfect to deny it full admittance to the pantheon.

(#648)(86/100)


Other notes

Cyril of duRhum felt that the L’expression (89.5 points) was better and the Select Casks was too cognac-y (84). WhiskyFun really liked the Select Casks (88), more than L‘Expression (85)

Jul 312019
 

Karukera, that small distillery on the eastern side of the left wing of Guadeloupe also known as Basse-Terre (in the Domain of Marquisat de Sainte–Marie) used to release bottles with an AOC designationit was clearly visible on the labels of the Millesime 1997 and the Rhum Vieux Reserve Speciale I went through some years ago. However, by the time 2016 rolled around this apparently had been discontinued, since the “L’expression” 8 year old bottled in that year shows no sign of it.

While Guadeloupe as a whole has always been somewhat ambivalent about going the whole hog with the AOC, no-one can doubt that their rhums do not suffer from any lack just because they are or are not part of the protocol. The rhum under review today, for example, is quite a good product, made as it is from cane juice of the famed high sugar-content canne bleue (which also makes a rip-snorting white), column-still distilled, a firm 48.1% ABV, and released to some fanfare in early 2017, during which several prizes came its way.

That said, I did find it somewhatodd. For one thing, though the nose initially presented as nicely sweet and deepwith pineapple, fresh baked bread, toffee, nuts, bon bons, nougat, vanilla, licorice and salted caramel in particular perking thinks upthere was a background hint of molasses that I couldn’t pin downwhat was it doing there, y’know? There was also some cumin, ginger, fennel and rosemary, a good bit of citrus zest (lemon), so it was a pleasant rhum to smell, but overall it displayed less of the grassy, sap and dry watery aromas that would normally distinguish any agricole.

Unlike many aged agricoles that have run into my glass (and down my chin), I found this one to be quite sweet, and for all the solidity of the strength, also rather scrawny, a tad sharp. At least at the beginning, because once a drop of water was added and I chilled out a few minutes, it settled down and it tasted softer, earthier, muskier. Creamy salt butter on black bread, sour cream, yoghurt, and also fried bananas, pineapple, anise, lemon zest, cumin, raisins, green grapes, and a few more background fruits and florals, though these never come forward in any serious way. The finish is excellent, by the waysome vague molasses, burnt sugar, the creaminess of hummus and olive oil, caramel, flowers, apples and some tart notes of soursop and yellow mangoes and maybe a gooseberry or two. Nice.

So yeah, like I said, it’s good, but a little confusing tooinitially, not much seems to be happening and then you realize it already has, and sorting out the impressions later you conclude that what you were getting was not entirely what you were expecting. For my money, it was not anything outstanding. I personally preferred the 2004 Double Maturation a lot morethat one was intriguing and complex, and navigated salt and sweet, soft and crisp, in a way this one tried to, but didn’t. The nose and the palate were at odds not just with each other but themselves, in a way, and it was overly fruity-sweet. That’s not enough for me to give it a bad score, just to make me look elsewhere at the company’s rhums, for something that might erase the memory of a Hawaiian pizza which the L’Expression so effortlessly brings to mind every time I sip it.

(#647)(83/100)


Other Notes

  • Big thanks to Cyril of DuRhum for the sample
  • A smaller 1500-bottle outturn of the 2008 millesime was released for La Maison du Whisky’s 60th Anniversary in the same year, at 48.4%. A 2008 Batch 2 was released at 47.5% with 3500 bottles but the year of bottling is unknownit can be distinguished by a blue portion of the label, missing on the one I tried here.
  • My bottles from 2012-2013 show an AOC moniker on the labels, which is not there now. The website also makes no mention of it, so I am left to conclude that it no longer conforms to the AOC designation. If anyone has some details, please let me know and I’ll update the post.
Jul 252019
 

We hear a lot about Damoiseau, HSE, La Favorite and Trois Rivieres on social media, while J.M. almost seems to fall into the second tier of famous names. Though not through any fault of its ownas far as I’m concerned they have every right to be included in the same breath as the others, and to many, it does.

Situated in the north of Martinique, J.M. began life with Pére Labat, who was credited with commercializing and proliferating the sugar industry in the French West Indies during the 18th century. He operated a sugar refinery at his property on the Roche Rover, and sold the estate to Antoine Leroux-Préville in 1790 – it was then renamed Habitation Fonds-Préville. In 1845, his daughters sold the property again, this time to a merchant from Saint-Pierre names Jean-Marie Martin. With the decline in sugar production but with the concomitant rise in sales of distilled spirits, Jean-Marie recognized an opportunity, and built a small distillery on the estate, and switched the focus away from sugar and towards rum, which he aged in oak barrels branded with his initials “JM”. In 1914 Gustave Crassous de Médeuil bought the plantation from his brother Ernest (it would be positively karmic if Ernest was a descendant or relative of Jean-Marie, but it remains unknown), and merged it with his already existing estate of Maison Bellevue. The resulting company has been family owned until recently, when Spiribam, the Hayot-family-controlled drinks conglomerate that also owns Clement and St. Lucia Distillers, bought a majority shareholding and put an end to one of the last independent single domaine plantations on Martinique.

The company makes various general blended rhums like the whites, the VO, VSOP and XO, as well as a ten and fifteen year old rum. The 45% ABV XO is one of the core range of rums JM produces, no particular year of make (otherwise it would be stated on the label and noted as being a millesime), always a minimum of six years old, made in quantity, consistent in taste and quality, and pretty widely available.

Right off, I enjoyed the smell when the bottle was cracked: luscious, well rounded ytet also a tad sharplet’s call it crisp for nowwith bags of soft tangerine zest, honey, vanilla and fudge. It lacked much of that true herbal, grassy aroma which characterizes an agricole, yet its origin in cane juice was clear, hovering behind softer hints of marshmallow smores, caramel and white chocolate.

Palate, more of the same, with a few extra herbs and spices thrown in for good measure, quite firm and bordering on sharp. So, some dill, cardamom, cloves, wet grass, dusky flowers (like lilies but thankfully fainter), plus softer tastes of peanut butter (the crunchy kind), caramel bon bons, rye bread and a sharp cheddar. The finish was the bow tie, not adding anything much, just summing up the notes: medium long, warm, a tad sharp with less florals and more coffee grounds, oak and cinnamon.

This was good drinking, good sipping. I particularly liked the fact that the J.M.’s inherent qualities kinda crept up on me without hurry: at first there was nothing bad about it, nor anything amazing, just decent qualityone could as easily mix it as sip it. Then a few extra notes began to sound, a few more joined in, and when it all came together at last I was left with a rhum that didn’t seem to have a whole lot of world-beating points of excellencebut what it had, it presented with aplomb. I finally came to the conclusion that the J.M. XO was a good rhum for both general audiences and those on a budget, a near perfect middle of the road product which didn’t seem like it was reaching for anythingbut made one realize, after the party was over, that every target it was aiming for, it hit.

(#645)(83/100)

Mar 212019
 

Rumaniacs Review # 094 | 0610

Séverin is a small distillery in the north of the left “wing” of Guadeloupe (called Basseterre), whose history can be divided into three parts: 1800-1928 when different owners held the small estate and grew various agricultural crops like pineapples and sugar, 1928-2014 when the Marsolle family held it and created the marque of Domaine de Séverin for their rhums, and the post-2014 period when the distillery (but not the whole estate) was sold to a local businessman called Jose Pirbakas. Although there was a cessation of operations after the takeover due to differences in management and operational philosophies (for one thing, all rhum prices were jacked up by 45% in 2014), rhums from Séverin are now once again available, primarily in France, and sporting a new, redesigned bottle and label.

That label is key, since the older ones such as on the bottle I had, are no longer in use and therefore serve as a useful determinant as to whether one is buying a pre-takeover rum (which is a Rumaniacs candidate), or a post 2014 version, which is not.

While it is not explicitly stated on the label, the Vieux is about three years old. Séverin have always played around with different casks in their aged rhums (cognac for the most part), but in this case it is very likely that standard oak barrels were used to age the rhum, which itself derives from a creole column still.

ColourGold

Strength – 45% ABV

NoseClearly Séverin, like many producers on Guadeloupe, played around with both molasses and cane juice for its raw material. Here, the deeper aromas of molasses, coca-cola and nougat steer us towards molasses as the base. There were hints of cinnamon and light coffee grounds, some smoke and vanilla, quite easy-going but also reasonably aromatic.

PalateA very pleasing profile, if not quite as sharply distinct as anything you’re getting from Martinique with its strict AOC guidelines. Coke, molasses, bitter chocolate and nougat charge out from the gate. There is also some brine, olives and coffee, and coiling around in the background are some vague floral and light fruity notes which provide a pleasing backdrop for the heavier flavours

FinishSomewhat weak, a flash in the pan, over quickly. Closing notes of cumin and cinnamon, caramel, damp brown sugar, vanilla.

ThoughtsReminds me somewhat of rums from Mauritius or the Seychelles. I like these indeterminate products that steer an interesting line between a pure molasses product and one made from juiceit’s like they take a bit of the characteristics both without leaning to either side too much. That makes them good rums to drink, though this one is not so exceptional that I’d want it on my top shelf. Still, it was made recently enough that I suspect one can still find it, and if so, it’s worth picking up for more than just historical value.

(80/100)

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.
Jan 092019
 

Rumaniacs Review #088 | 0587

You’d think that a rhum issued less than fifteen years ago would still be reasonably availableyou’d be wrong. This amazing leather-labelled, oak-aged 15 year old agricole from J.M. (Martinique) is almost impossible to find, and if you do, it’s not cheap. It’s long since vanished from J.M.’s online shop, and I finally ended up tracking a bottle down in Switzerland, where it was a fetching a cool five hundred bucks or more, which just goes to show it’s not just other people’s money the Swiss are squirrelling away. One can only wonder how many (or how few) bottles of J.M.’s juice made up this millésime, or how good it was, for it to disappear so completely.

ColourGold

Strength – 45.8%

NoseStarts off with a small bang of rubber and acetones. Then sweet peppers, floral notes; turns out it’s also chock full of strawberry bubble gum, vanilla, herbs, apple cider, unripe papaya, cherries and something deeper and darker that stays well in the background….spoiled mangoes, maybe. Really nice, but it doesn’t reveal its secrets easily. You could nose this for an hour (which I did) and still come up with some last wispy and near-unidentifiable note. Because it’s just lovely, a nice departure from heavier Jamaicans, Guyanese or Bajans.

PalateNot quite as rich as the nose, which is a factor of the strength. Okay, I’ll cut it some lack for now, let’s see how that works out. Flowers, sweet fruits, vanilla, leather and aromatic pipe tobacco. Watermelon, grass and sugar water, also dill, rosemary and sage. The rum’s textire is smooth and warm, there’s very little sharpness here, and the balance among all these subtle flavours is damned fine.

FinishNot too inspiring, somewhat weak and nothing really new. It’s light and breathless as if, having used up all its energy providing the nose and palate, it had little left to cough up. Flowers, light fruits, watermelon and pears, and a little vanilla.

ThoughtsSome concentration and work required here, but it’s rewarded right up to the finish. It’s all very light, that’s alland has a snappy sort of crispness that makes every flavour stand out clearlyyou could spend a whole afternoon sipping casually away and then wonder when the bottle went dry. The close is disappointing though, and leaves one wanting moreit’s too good to be indifferent to it, but too indifferent to be really good. Other than that, this is a really fine piece of work by J.M. — the way it smells and tastes, and possibly the limited outturn, goes a long way to explaining how come the thing is so rareand so expensive.

(85/100)


Other notes

I’ve written about other J.M. rhums before this and provided some brief biographical notes of J.M.’s background in each, but if you want more details, the Wonk-in-Residence has his usual in-depth recap here, and here.

Mar 032018
 

D3S_3819

Rumaniacs Review #075 | 0492

Revisited over nearly three years, the seemingly underproofed 43% 2005 Neisson has grown in my estimation; indeed, it wasn’t until I was doing up my tasting notes that I recalled the initial review (R0273 / 86 points) done back in 2015, and realized that it was even better than I recalled, back when Neisson was still too strange, too new to my agricole experience, for its qualities to shine through. Good thing the Sage sent us some more to try, then, because perhaps now I can be more enthusiastic about it.

ColourAmber

Strength – 43%

NoseStarts off by being a traditional Neisson nose, all tequila, olives, brine, caramel and citrus, very well handled, nothing excessive, all in harmony. Then things start to get interesting. Pears and hard yellow mangoes (the sort Guyanese like having with salt and a really hot pepper), chocolate, some soya. Also tobacco, peaches, fennel and rosemary, and the thick scent of a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day.

PalateInteresting three card trick here: it’s both solid and light and creamy all at the same time, and that’s not something I see often. Salt butter, more mangoes, papayas, watery pears, citrus peel (lemon rather more than lime, I’d say), flowers, aromatic cigars and coconut dusted white chocolate. The briny aspect takes a back seat, which is good because it allows a faint note of caramel to emerge as well. Just lovely.

Finish – 43% isn’t going to give up much, and so the fade is shortbut also quite aromatic. Citrus, salty caramel ice cream, ripe green apples and pears. And a hint of coffee again. It doesn’t come to an end with either a bang or a whisper, but sort of a quiet, easy lingering fade that makes you want to savour the experience.

ThoughtsAfter running past nine Neissons blind, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me to appreciate that this one, with the weakest ABV of the lot (by a small margin), was also the best. There’s something about the way the bits and pieces of its profile meld and merge and then separate, giving each a small and defined moment of sunshine on nose and palate, that is really quite lovely. It’s tasty, it’s complex, it’s smooth, it’s all ’round good. It’s one of those rums I bought on a whim, was excellent thenand has grown in stature for me ever since. Rightfully so.

(89/100)


  • WhiskyFun reviewed this rhum a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 92. Future Rumaniacs reviews of the Neisson line, when others get around to them, will be posted here. Also, LaurentThe Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review (part three his four-part Neisson roundup, see Parts [1][2][3][4]), which is well worth a read.
Feb 042018
 

Photo shamelessly cribbed from DuRhum.com

#485

Ever notice how on the British West Indies there are just a few or just one big gun per island or countrylike DDL, Appleton, Mount Gay, Foursquare, Angostura, St Lucia Distilleries, St Vincent Distillers, Rivers Royale, and so onwhile the smaller islands from the French side like Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and Mauritius seem to have little outfits all over the place? I don’t know what’s behind thatmaybe it has to do with the commercial cultures of each sphere. Whatever the case, one can’t fault the results of multiple distillers competing fiercely for global bucks and worldwide street cred, because it all redounds to the benefit of us rum chums, and these distillers sure haven’t let a few centuries of experience wither on the vine and be forgotten.

Consider, for example, J.M., which is among the last of the family operated independent distillers operating on Martinique: the initials refer to Jean-Marie Martin, a previous 19th century owner, and the estate has its origins with the famed Pere Labat way back in the 1700s, though it has changed hands several times since then. With the surge of interest in agricoles over the last five years or so their profile has been raised somewhat, with good reasonwhat they make is damned fine: I’ve tried just a few of their rums so far, none of which scored less than 86, and this one, issued at 47.2% is just as good as the others.

Just as a side note, there are two variations of the Millesime 2000 – one was bottled in 2009 at 47.2%, which is this one, an eight year old; and another one bottled in 2016 at a lighter 41.9%, a fifteen year old. The one I have is something of a premium edition, a numbered bottle meant to celebrate the arrival of the 2000s, silver-wrapped green bottle and enclosure, pretty cool looking. Samples came courtesy of (and with thanks to) Cyril of DuRhum and Laurent of “Poussette” fame, and I’ve pilfered Cyril’s picture to give you a sense of how it looks.

What was surprising about the AOC rum was how it nosed more traditionallycreme brulee and cheesecake to start with, backed up by a very light line of acetone and furniture polish (!!)…not quite the profile I was expecting. Still, these aromas developed over time to a more commingled crushed apple juice, together with honey, raisins, cream soda, nutmeg and cinnamon, and it was all quite delicate and clearonly after about fifteen minutes or so did additional fruits, herbs and the characteristic grassy and citrus smells start to poke through, adding some nuts and light oak to the whole mix.

Tastewise it was just lovely. Light and perfumedthe strength was perfect for what it presentedwith lots of delicate breakfast spices, grass, citrus, herbs, smoke, leather and woods. Florals were more noticeable here, frangipani and hibiscus, plus a more salty profile taking the front seat as wellbrine, olives, cream pie crust, cereals, toblerone, white chocolate and almonds. It was very well balanced off between these tastes, and was not so much crisp as simply well integrated and easy. The fruits in particular were hard to distinguishthey existed the notes of green grapes, some apples and pears took some time to ferret out, and I felt the vanilla became somewhat over-dominant towards the end, obscuring other aspects which worked better. The finish gave no cause for complaint, thoughshort, as was to be expected, with nutmeg, vanilla, aromatic tobacco, orange zest and some more light fruits.

Overall, this was one of the better agricoles I’ve had over the years. It was another one of those JM rhums which defined itself by being quietly unique in its own way, while never entirely losing touch with those aspects of the agricole world which make them such sought after products in their own right. Our senses are led gently through its composition, the high points hinted at without being driven home with a bludgeon and it has a quiet voluptuousness which is never punched up or intrusive. This is a rum we don’t tipple or swill or cautiously sipwe sample its languourous charms, enjoy the experience, and glide through to an appreciation of its construction. And when it’s over and the glass is empty, we may not entirely recall the experience with claritywe just know we would be fools if we didn’t pour ourselves another glass. It’s that kind of rhum.

(86.5/100)

Nov 152017
 

#400

Not enough has been written about the rhums of Dillon, a rum-maker in central Martinique whose origins stretch back many centuries and at the time when I was in Paris in 2016 I not unnaturally went for one of the better ones available (recommended by the estimable Jerry Gitany, who hosted me for a very pleasant three hour session in Christian de Montaguère’s shop, while the Little Caner concealed his boredom upstairs). I tried it twice, once there, and once at home and can confirm that it’s quite an interesting rhum.

Dillon traces its history way back to 1690 when the site of the distillery in Fort de France was settled by Arthur Dillon, a soldier with Lafayette’s troops in the US War of Independence. A colonel at the age of sixteen, he married a well-to-do widow and used her funds to purchase the estate, which produced sugar until switching over to rhum in the 19th century. The original sugar mill and plant was wiped out in the 1902 volcanic eruption, and eventually a distillery went into operation in 1928, by which time there had been several changes in ownership. In 1967 Bordeaux Badinet (now Bardinet / La Martiniquaise Group) took over, the mill closed and the original Corliss steam engine and the creole column still was sent up the road to Depazso nowadays Dillon has its cane, but the distillation and bottling is done by Depaz, which is owned by the same group. Dave Russell of Rum Gallery, who actually visited the distillery, remarked that the creole single column still is still in operation and is used specifically to make the Dillon marque, perhaps in an effort to distinguish it from Depaz’s own rhums which, by the way, are also quite good.

AOC compliant, the Dillon XO was made from cane juice fermented for two to three days and then run through the creole still, and bottled at 45% ABV. Dark gold in hue, it presented itself well on the nose, showing off a peculiar divergence from the more forceful grassy, herbal smells we commonly associate with agricole rhums. It began with sweet caramel and honey notes (not what I expected, though I liked quite a bit), heated but not sharp, progressing desultorily to a lighter profile redolent of flowerslavender, perhapsripe mangoes, a hint of acetone and vague lemon peel. It was almost delicate in its way, and what grassiness there was, was kept way backin fact, that honey smell remained quite distinct throughout, though fortunately not overbearing.

The palate was also somewhat at right angles to the standard, though the underlying DNA was quite clearly in evidence. This will sound strange, but what I tasted after the delicately sweet lemongrass, honey and pancakes, was something smoky and more muscular, salty, even beefy. Flowers again, some cereals, anise, vanilla, nuts, white watery fruits (guavas and pears), peaches and apricots, and some citrus held way, way back. Actually, I thought it was a shade too sweet, and even on the short and delicate finish (more lemongrass, peaches and indistinct vanilla and honey), this feeling persisted. So, a bit on the odd side, yet still a very nice agricole, and I should remark on the fact that there was almost no oakiness to be sensed at all throughout the entire tasting session.

Overall then, it was smooth and warm and sprightly, seeming (to me) not as much a Martinique rhum as one from Guadeloupeit’s something in the way that heaviness and crispness mixed it up in the backyard which pointed in that direction. That’s enough for me to remark on the way it differed from expectations, but by no means enough to make me dislike it. It’s quite a good agricole to add to the collection, and at its price point it’s unlikely you’ll have any major fault to find, if what you’re looking for is a representative rhum from a brand that could use some more exposure. Neisson, HSE, St. James, Clement, Trois Rivieres, Bally and others are well known, of course, but let’s not forget this intriguing and delectable rhum either….because it’s certainly worth a try

(84/100)

 

Aug 242017
 

#384

The rhums of Chantal Comte have been of consistently high quality throughout my relatively brief acquaintanceship with her brand. Mme Comte, you may recall, is an independent bottler with the twin advantages of having a long association with spirits (she is the owner of a wine making chateau in France) as well as a boatload of familial connections and wasta in Martinique. The La Tour L’Or HSE, the 1980 Trois Rivieres and the 1977 Trois Rivieres rhums were all products that impressed, and I had thought so even when my experience with agricoles was more limited. There was something about the richness and subtlety of the final products she issued that simply could not be ignored and many of them were under ten years old, which was and remains its own endorsement.

After the positive experience of the 1977 Trois Rivieres and the purring incandescence of its cousin the 1980, one wonders whether such a run of great agricole bottlings can be sustained, time and again, from various other distillerie (La Favorite in this case), each new generation topping the previous one. In short, not reallythese are variable rhums, pricey rhums, not always easy to get: and the 2001 Reserve Speciale, while no slouch by any means, didn’t quite ascend to the heights as some others did.

That’s not to say this is a bad rhum, or even a merely-average one. Oh no. It’s quite a delectable drink. Consider first the nose which started off relatively easy, as befitting its 45.5% strength, providing aromas of faint rubber and acetone, green apples and pears and florals. It didn’t stop there either, with a sort of creamy, nutty cheese, plums and apricots, a flirt of oak and vanilla and nougat adding to the panoply. It occurred to me that this was hardly a standard profile for an agricole at all, what with the lack of clear, herbal, grassy, sugarcane sap smellsbut you weren’t going to hear me complaining too loudly, because what slowly billowed from the glass was quiet and pleasant in its own way.

The palate of the golden coloured juice from La Favorite sort of broke up the melange by pivoting to tastes that were more precise and distinct. It was warm, medium bodied, and quite firm. One could sense peaches, more plums and fresh-cut apples, cider, plus sea salt and white pepper and ginger cookies. After resting and with just a smidgen of water, there was more: lemon zest, florals, vanilla for the most part, and I have to admit, I liked it a lotit presented as warm and musky and earthy and clean, all at once, in a sort of quietly enjoyable amalgam of flavours, not too many, but well and carefully assembled, so they don’t elbow each other all over the place. The finish was kinda short, and dry, but in this case that was okay, since it closed up the experience in a calm and easy fashion, without any spicy aggression that threatened to skewer nose or tonsils. It was, compared to a very good beginning, somewhat weak, and nothing new came to my attention aside from the earthy tones and light fruits and florals.

This rhum was distilled in 2001 and bottled in 2008, making it seven years old and had an entirely respectable 3100 bottle outturn. It makes mention of being a ”Appellation Martinique Controlée” product but since this is not an AOC designation one can only wonder what that was all about or whether it was a misprint. I merely mention it because it seemed so odd.

So, in fine, it was enticing, tasty, well rounded, without harsh notes of any kind, I liked it a lot and consider it a worthwhile addition to anyone’s agricole shelf. The title is also something I appreciated, even though it had nothing to do with the product itself. It translates into “Traveller’s Tree” and is a symbol of hospitality on Martiniqueit provokes images of dusty travelers in lands far away, stopping to relax under its shade so as to rest weary feet and aching body, and partake of the water caught in the gently swaying fronds. And maybe have a shot of this rum. The romantic and storyteller in me likes the concept, because after a tough day at any endeavour, I could just see myself pouring a shot or two of this quietly delectable seven year old and shedding all cares. Maybe even under a tree.

(86/100)

 


Other Notes:

Rum Corner reviewed this rhum, much less positively. We both sampled the thing at the same time, at the famous 2016 ‘Caner Afterparty in Berlin, so this must come down to a difference in palate and final opinion. Cyril of DuRhum also tried and wrote about itway back in 2013. Always ahead of the curve, that man.

Aug 202017
 

Rumaniacs Review #052 | 0452

None of the ‘Maniacs seem to have written anything on how old this things is, which is surprising given its price tag (about €170 or so), but both WhiskyAuction and Reference-Rhum say’s it’s a ten year old; the label (below) says its eleven so we’ll go with the older one. Another odd thing is the strengthmy sample said 45%, and various online shops quote it as being variously 45.4%, 46.2% or 42.7% – so after some digging around it seems that 2004 was a particularly good year and several single barrel issues were made, so pay attention to which one you’re getting. Mine was evidently the 45.4% iteration made for LMDW in Paris and I accept the labelling on my sample was a misprint.

There’s already been enough written in these pages and others about Neisson so let’s move on without further ado because my sample is evaporating and I don’t want to waste any.

Colourorange gold

Strength – 45.4%

NoseDeep and controlled without sharpness, very tasty; pears, papaya, green apples; develops gradually with herbs and a sort of vegetable soup with just a hint of soy. In the background there’s some oak and aromatic pipe tobacco.

PalateA fragrant bowl of hot soup, really quite amazing. Some floral notes, some fruitiness of tart apples and a potpourri room freshener, far from unpleasant. Tart apples, fleshy fruits, lemon zest, maggi cubes, brine and olives, more smoke, chocolate, gingerhow the rhum navigates its way among all these flavours, where an excess of any one could sink the whole thing, is really quite extraordinary.

FinishVery pleasant, medium long, just north of light. Floral and fruity, guavas and pears mostly, plus some oakiness held way back. Here sweetness and vanilla come forward which isn’t entirely to my likingbut overall it closes off really well.

ThoughtsA really impressive agricole which demonstrates again why Neisson is one of the better rhum producers from Martinique. There’s just so much going on here that it demands some patience and leisurely sipping to appreciate fully. Mixing this into a cocktail might be a punishable offense in some countries.

(85/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of the Neisson 2004 can be found on the website.

 

Photo courtesy of Gaetan Dumoilin

Aug 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #051 | 0451

Today we amble on over to Martinique, where Neisson is to be found: I have four of these fascinating AOC rhums to play with, and here’s the first of them to sate the intangible palate and add to the historical record.

Neisson is, in my own opinion, one of the most singular makers of agricole rhum on Martinique, and I’ve used words likefascinating”, “unusualanddistinctiveto describe their remarkable productsthere’s always something slightly off kilter in them, some cheerful, almost whimsical, sort ofessayons de cette façon,” orleh we try disapproach. I’m not entirely convinced this makes them world beaters in every instance and iterationbut you’ll always know one when you try it, and perhaps that’s the aim all along.

ColourOrange-Gold

Strength – 45%

NoseYoghurt and sour cream, sharp apple cider, fruit, and buttered green peas (I could not make this up if I tried). It’s a nice nose, however, with just a tinge of olives in brine, some vanilla, marmalade, and bitter coffee. How this all comes together is a mystery, but it does workin its own way.

PalateWiney, just a bit thin, quite warm. Where’s the grassy and herbal stuff agricoles are supposed to have? Let it wait, add a touch of water, and there it is: sugar cane sap, light vanilla and lemon ice cream, and is that some wasabi lurking in the background? Sure it is. Sour cream, some red grapes, red guavas wrap up the show. Definitely not a standard agricole, so I’m going to addintriguingto the vocabulary as well.

FinishMedium short, less impressive. Green grass, brine, vanilla, herbs, some oakiness (not much) and the musky brininess comes back to say a flashing goodbye.

ThoughtsTakes some getting used to. As a personal thing, too many tequila-like notes don’t enthuse me, but once this meanders off the gradually unfolding of the rhum is remarkable, so apply some patience in assessing it as a sipping spirit.

(82/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rhum can be found in the website

Jul 232017
 

#379

Much as I had with the Longueteau Grand Réserve, a ten year old agricole from Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), I felt the 42% strength on the six year old VSOP was perhaps too timid and too wispy for a rhum which could have been more had it been made stronger. Longueteau, a distillery which has been in operation since 1895 and produces the Karukera and Longueteau lines of rhums, seems to eschew fierce and powerful expressions and is quite content to keep on issuing standard strength work, but since their quality is nothing to sneeze at and is readily approachable by the larger body of rum aficionados, perhaps they have hit on a preferred strength and just stick with it.

In any case, the orange amber coloured rhum presented very nicely indeed on the nose, beginning with a light sort of fruit basket left in the sun too long but just missing being overripe. There was vanilla ice cream and the vague saltiness of rye bread and that spread known as kraüter-quark in Germany, with dill and parsley adding some interesting herbal notes. Like most agricoles it was delicate and crisp at the same time, and while there was certainly some sugar cane sap and grassiness it, this stayed very much in the background. After opening up over several minutes more, one could discern olives in nutmeg, brine, watermelon and peaches, light and clear, firm and delicate all at once.

The nose was certainly very pleasanthowever much one had to work at itbut on the palate the 42% became somewhat more problematic since it really was too light and easy….though one could sayplayfulas well, and still be on the mark. Oddly, a drop of water (and another ten minutes of opening up) solved that problem nicely, allowing clear, if faint, acetone and fried banana flavours to emerge. These merged well with some smoke and oaken tannins, more vanilla and a smorgasbord of fruits to come forwardpapaya, watermelon, sugar water, pears and white guavasto which, over time, were added herbs, and some pickled gherkins, leading up to a short, dry finish mostly redolent of soya, brine, dark bread and (again) vanilla and a grape or two.

Overall the rhum was a very good one, if perhaps just too gentle. Many will enjoy it for precisely those attributes, since it doesn’t assault the senses but prefers to stroke them with a silken wire of flavour, and draws back from any kind of serious challenge or analysis. A cocktail geek can probably make an interesting concoction with it, but for my money this is a tasty, twittering little rumlet, which, with a few extra proof points, might be even better, and in its current iteration, can be had by itself without any additional embellishment. It’s both complex enough within its limitations, and unassertive enough for the peaceniks, to give perfect satisfaction on that level, and in any case, yes, I did like it: whatever my reservations, I also consider it a soundly enjoyable sundowner that adds to the sum total of the delicious variations which agricoles provide.


(84/100)

Other notes

  • Some distillery notes are provided in the review of the Grand Réserve.
  • The company website says aged in oak casks that once held brandy; other sources say ex-cognac barrels.
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.