Mar 022022
 

Photo (c) Killik Handrcrafted, from their website.

When reviewing the Gold (rum) produced by the Melbourne-based distillery of Killik Handcrafted, I was less than enthusiastic, grumbling and mumbling that the mildly aged rum would impress in five years but right now was mostly potential with not enough follow-through. I made those remarks because I knew there was a rum in their portfolio that proved the skills did exist and which really did impress me, and it wasn’t aged or set in a barrel or anything: it was their full proof 59% unaged white. 

For the curious: Killik handcrafted is a small rum distillery started by the brothers Ben and Callan Pratt in 2019 (more background in a separate mini-bio here). They have a hybrid thousand-liter still that allows multiple configurations including that of a 4- or 6-plate column still, or a pot still; also make other spirits for cash flow; use molasses as the base; and have a local cooper help with getting barrels. They proudly represent themselves as the first hogo-centric distillery in Victoria (the Australian state in which Melbourne is located) because they love messing around with fermentation and cheerfully play with dunder and muck holes and wild yeast to see if they can bring some Cockpit to Killik.

Thus far the majority of the stocks they have laid down to age have been pot still distillates, and we have yet to see any of those aside from the Gold; on the other hand, the unaged whites of the Silver and ther Silver Overproof are all column still spirits. Which is interesting because usually, when we hear of unaged whites dripping from a column still, we tend think rather more of the French Caribbean islands, or Reunion, even some of the new Asian outfits — not Australia.  But that would be a mistake, because even if they don’t use the pot still for the unaged Silver, Killik is closer to those two badass Jamaicans, Hampden and Worthy Park… in spirit, in production and in results.

And what a result this was indeed. I can’t speak for the standard proof Silver which I haven’t tried, just the overproof, but I gotta say, it’s made so well that Jamaican rum lovers might want to cast a covetous eye over Down Under. Consider first the nose: “Damn!,” went my first notes, expressing some surprise, “Seriously, deeply, pungently, sharply fruity-sweet.” It’s redolent of the tip of a marker squeaking over a new whiteboard; strawberry milk shakes loaded down with extra vanilla ice cream; tart fruity yoghurt. There’s a bagful of sour-sweet fruits – apples, kiwi fruits, hard yellow mangoes (with an odd spicy scent that reminds me of those coming from Sri Lanka). In an odd reversal of standard, the glue, acetones and solvent come late to the party, swirling around a core of peaches and pineapples and very ripe apricots and bananas. They sure weren’t kidding about going for the hogo.

The heat of the 59% comes into its own on the palate. That sharp spiciness attendant on that strength is unavoidable, yet at no point is it really unpleasant: what it does is provide a rock solid foundation that makes each taste not some faint wispy sensation breathily experienced and instantly gone, but something of distinct force.  It starts off with acetones, nail polish remover, flowers and fruit juice, and none of the undesirable rotting-midden scents that admittedly add character when assembled properly, but so often detract from the overall experience when not. It’s nicely sweet, displays some interesting spices – cinnamon, rosemary, cardamom, even a whiff of chamomile – plus musky fruity flavours that develope really well.  Green peas, bananas, orange peel, bitter chocolate and coffee grounds, laban, slightly sour milk all get mixed into the taste profile, and it all comes to a long, dry and heated conclusion that is always crisp with distinct ripe fruity notes and some vegetable coordinates well dialled in.

This is one seriously good rum. I mean, it goes down so well — the flavours just pop, it hits all the high notes and at no time does it feel like it’s out of control and just hitting you with its junk because it can. It’s sweet but not too much; sour but not mouth-puckeringly so; musky within reason, sharp without cutting, and flavourful without throwing the spice cupboard at you and then following up with the kitchen sink. It’s a curiously cultured back-bar brawler that is unashamedly partisan in its inspirations, honestly hearkening back to its stated Jamaican antecedents without apology even as it goes its own way.

I tried the entire 2021 Australian Advent Calendar sample selection over a period of days in December last year, and this was the one that to me, of all the whites, stood out. It not only exceeded those in whose company I tasted it, but handily eclipsed its own siblings and proved once again (as if it needed to be proved at all) that unaged white rums of power are among the best value for money rums out there. With Killik’s Silver Overproof, unlike the Gold, I don’t want to wait five years to see what else they can do with it.  I want another bottle right now.

(#889)(86/100) ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and a doff of the derby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks, as always, to you both.
Mar 012022
 

Commercial publicity still

Rhum Mia is the product of a small distillery in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, run by two expatriate Frenchmen and which opened for business around 2017. I’m interested in eastern hemisphere rhums as part of my overarching  fascination with all the branches of the rum tree, and while aged rums and rhums and rons not unnaturally get all the attention, the white rhums from that region are gradually beginning to gain more traction, and they exert a powerful fascination.

A few years ago I was gifted a sample by Reuben Virasami (the showrunner of Roob Dog Drinks which is well worth visiting) from this small outfit in Vietnam. I spent a fair amount of time on it and the backstory of the distillery, which I’ll add down below: but suffice to say, they continue to issue small batch cane juice rhums on their small column still, and these are then aged – I use the term carefully – in clay pots called chum which are also and traditionally used to hold local rice liquors during fermentation.

Clearly if there is any residual effect of these vessels, it would result in a taste profile that presents at an angle to more familiar agricole-style rhums, whether aged or unaged.  I am not fully conversant with the way in which clay vessels impact the taste of a rum, since serious experience is lacking here, but at the least I would expect many of the herbal, grassy, “green” notes to be retained.  The initial 2018 expression did have those but seemed too weak for its purpose, no matter how unusual and unique it was, and to some extent that continued a year later with the 2019 release which came into my hands via John Go in the Philippines (he writes most of the rum reviews for Malt-Review).

The rum retained the makers’ tradition of being bottled at 45%, and there were many similarities with the previous year’s rhum: the smell continued to reek of glue, bookbindings, and the newly cracked pages of a glossy French fashion magazine, rubber and plastic.  But there was a rather unpleasant scent of damp cigarette smoke – the way it hangs in the air on a cold winter day, or smells when adhering to the latex gloves of your least favourite proctologist – and this did little to enthuse. It was only after some minutes that I could discern some sugar water, cucumbers, gherkins in light vinegar and one anaemic pear, and a curious minerally smell.  Overall it seemed less a rhum than a spirit with some rummy components.

On the palate, that cigarette ash note never really went away, though thankfully it remained subtle, joined by damp drywall, glue and dust for a few minutes, and then fading gently away.  From that point on, the dominant flavours were watery fruit – pears, watermelon, white guavas, kiwis, ripe soursop minus the “sour”, and yoghurt.  Melons, papaya and some lemon-flavoured sugar water raised the profile a bit, though there was also an odd minerality sensed here and there, something along the lines of licking wet granite. The finish was all right – light watery fruits, a touch of lemon zest, some grassy notes, and a touch of rosemary and dill.

Second to last glass on the right…..

After this experience, I hauled the Rhum Mia from the previous year out of the sample box in the basement and tried it again. The notes were pretty much on point and my memory had not failed: that one was intriguing but not really exceptional and scored on the median, and because it was an early variation, it held the promise of improvement as time passed and experience was gained.  Alas, the 2019 edition is more of a disappointment. It wasn’t as if it lacked interest, was bereft of originality and even some punch: not at all, it had what it had and was a touch more distinct than its predecessor…it was just not as pleasant to drink. Somehow the herbal grassiness and tart fruit part of the profile had been dialled down while allowing less interesting notes to make up the difference.  That, I’m afraid, was not to the rhum’s benefit…or to mine.

(#888)(73/100) ⭐⭐½


Other notes

  • Thanks, of course, to John, who keeps sourcing interesting an offbeat rums for me to try and which he steadfastly refuses to label until after I’ve tried them.
  • We’ll take a look and see if the 55% bumped-up edition holds more promise in a week or two

Background Details

Saigon Liquorists — the name of the small company behind the Mia brand — is the formally incorporated enterprise of two expatriate Frenchmen Clément Jarlier and Clément Daigre, who saw the cane juice liquor being sold on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City and smelled a business opportunity. The fact that one was involved in spirits distribution in Vietnam while the other had both broker experience and knew about the distillation of cognac helped establish things, cince they already had some background in the industry.

Sourcing a 200-liter single column still in 2017 from China, they obtained fresh cane, then the juice, experimented for three months with fermentation, distillation, cutting, finally got the profile they were after, and rolled out the first Rhum Mia in October that year at a charity gala. In their current system, the sugarcane comes from Tien Giang in the Mekong Delta, just south of Ho Chi Minh City. The sugarcane is peeled (and that peel is discarded), and pressed once to get the first juice. That is then vacuum-packed in 5L bags and loaded into refrigerated trucks (this slows down fermentation), which transport the bags the 70km to the distillery. 

There fermentation is begun and lasts about five days, before being run through the small column still – somewhat more heads than usual are cut, which reduces the flavour (but also the hangover, apparently), and what comes out the other end is around 77% ABV. The rum is rested in inert, locally-made traditional clay vessels (chums, used in rice liquor fermentation in Vietnam) for eight months and then slowly diluted with water over the final two months to 45% – a strength chosen to appeal to the local market where Mia’s initial sales were made.


 

Feb 092022
 

Photo (c) Two Rum Chicks, used with their kind permission

There are five bottlings planned for the Australian Distillery Kalki Moon’s “Cane Farmer” Series, named as an homage to the farmers in Queensland who were instrumental in developing the state. The Plant Cane — an unaged white spirit which is a rum in all but name — was the second, introduced in December 2020, with spiced and darker aged expressions that can be called “rum” locally being developed for future release.

We’ll go into the background of the company later, but for now, let’s just talk about this white unaged spirit, made from molasses (yes, molasses, not juice), fermented with a commercial yeast for six days and then run through a 600-liter pot still called “Pristilla”…twice. The high proof spirit coming off the still is then diluted with water over a period of around eight weeks, down to the 44% we get here.


Kalki Moon has several stills – a small, 100-liter pot still (for gin) made in Australia, and another 200-liter pot still (for rum) bought in China were the original stills. Other stills were added later: Pristilla (for more rum), then “Marie” — another Chinese 1000-liter still sourced in 2020 (for yet more gin) — and in 2022 a 3000-liter Australian-made pot still will replace Pristilla (for even more rum). 


This white rum (I’ll call it that and ask for Australians’ indulgence in the matter) has certain similarities to both the Brix and the JimmyRum whites we’ve already looked at, but with its own twist. The rum has and interesting character…and the nose, it must be said, is really kind of all over the place. It starts out smelling of brine, olives and iodine, and even puts out a vague scent of pine-sol disinfectant, before remembering it’s supposed to be a rum and choking that off.  Then you get a sort of dhal or lentil soup with black pepper and masala spice, which in turn morphs into a more conventional Jamaican low-rent funkiness of banana skins, overripe fleshy stoned fruits and soft pineapples, and the hogo of meat beginning to go. When you’re done you feel like you’ve just been mugged by a happily unwashed baby fresh off his daily vegemite.

Photo (c) Justin Galloway, used with his kind permission

Never fear, though, most of all this confusion is gone by the time it’s time to start sipping the thing.  Here we get a solid, sweet, luscious depth: strawberries, pineapples, very dark and very ripe cherries, melons, papayas and squash (yes, squash).  Some squishy overripe Thai mangoes and maybe some guavas, with just enough citrus being hinted at to not make it a cloying mess, and just enough salt to balance all that off.  It’s not entirely a success, but not something you would forget in a hurry either.  The finish goes off in its own direction again, evidently forgetting (again) what it was supposed to be, and leaves me with a simultaneously dry and watery sort of cane-vinegar-wine vibe, cardboard, and a bland fruit salad where nothing can be picked out.

It’s an odd rum, and to be honest I really kinda like it, because for one, it really does taste like a rum, and two, even if the tastes and smells don’t always play nice and go helter skelter all over the place, there’s no denying that by some alchemy of Mr. Prosser’s skill, it all holds together and provides a punch of white rum flavour one can’t dismiss out of hand.  Not everything can be “like from the Caribbean” and not everything should be. With Kalki Moon’s first batch, my advice for most would be to mix this thing into a daiquiri or a mojito or something, and check it out that way…it’s really going to make those old stalwarts jump. For those of strength, fortitude, and Caner-style mad courage, drink it neat. You won’t forget it in a hurry, I’m thinking…just before you start wondering what a full proof version would be like.

(#883)(82/100) ⭐⭐⭐½

 


Company  Background

Photo (c) Kalki Moon

Kalki Moon is named after an enduring image in the mind of the founder Rick Prosser, that of the full moon over the fields of Bundaberg in the neighbourhood of Kalkie, where he had built his house. After working for thirteen years and becoming a master distiller at the Bundaberg Distillery and dabbling in some consultancy work, Mr. Prosser decided to give it a shot for himself, and enlisted friends and family to help financially and operationally support his endeavours to build and run his own artisanal distillery, which opened in 2017 with two small stills. 

Australian law requires any spirit labelled “rum” to have been aged for two years, which places a burden on new startup distilleries wanting to produce it there…they have to make cash flow to survive for at least that long while their stock matures. That need to make sales from the get-go pushed the tiny distillery into the vodka- and gin-making business (gin was actually a last minute decision) — Mr. Prosser felt that the big brands produced by his previous employer, Diageo, had their place, but there were opportunities for craft work too.

Somewhat to his surprise, the gins he made – a classic, a premium, a navy strength and even a pink – sold well enough that he became renowned for those, even while adding yet other spirits to his company’s portfolio. Still, he maintains that it was always rum for which he was aiming, and gin just paid the bills, and in 2020 he commissioned a third, larger still (named “Marie”, after his grandmother) to allow him to expand production even further.  Other cash generating activities came from the spirits-trail distillery tourists who came on the tours afforded by having several brewing and distilling operations in a very concentrated area of Bundaberg – so there are site visits, tasting sessions and so on.

At the same time, he has been experimenting with rums – some, of course, ended up becoming the Plant Cane – but it took time to get the cuts and fermentation and still settings right, so that a proper rum could be set to age. At this point I believe the spiced and maybe the dark (aged) rums will be ready for release in 2022 or shortly thereafter. The gins are too well-made, too profitable and too widely appreciated, now, to be abandoned, so I imagine that Kalki will continue to be very much a multi-product company.  It remains to be seen whether the dilution of focus I’ve remarked on before with respect to small American distilleries who multi-task the hell out of their stills, will hamper making a truly great artisanal rum, or whether all these various products will get their due moment in the sun. Personally I think that if his gins can be good enough to win awards right out of the gate, it sure will be interesting to watch what Mr. Prosser does when he gets a head of steam under him, and the aged rums start coming out the door. So far, even the unaged rum he made is well worth a taste.


Other Notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and touch of the Panama to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge when they heard of my interest (it was not for sale outside Australia). Thanks again to you both.
  • A sample pic shows what I tasted from but it really lacks a visual something.  When I scoured around for bottle pics, I found the two (much better) photographs which you see included above, so many thanks to Justin Galloway and (chaste) kisses to the Two Rum Chicks, who kindly allowed me to use their work.
Jan 262022
 

There’s a sly sort of insouciant Aussie humour at work in the JimmyRum distillery, not the least the name itself.  More serious-minded folks would name the company “McPherson’s” or “Victoria Distillery” or some other such portentous title meant to demonstrate respectful gravitas and a profound commitment to the momentous task of distilling top drawer Australian rum. The names of the staff would be reverently listed with their titles, background, experience and commitment to rum, and the whole business would just reek of Ultra Serious.  

In place of that we get that playful name, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the founder, a wink at Matilda — the Italian-made hybrid still — and somehow, the word “rambunctiousness” on the front page. The whole ethos of the company and its promo materials has a lighthearted style that reminds me of, oh, Nine Leaves with its ten different job titles all held by one man, or the eclectic bunch of guys from all walks of life in Detroit who make up Doctor Bird.

Maybe being the new kid on the block gives you the leeway. JimmyRum is a very new distillery, established around 2018 in Dromana, a small community just south of Melbourne, and is the brainchild of James McPherson, a former marine engineer. In 2015 or so, after some twenty years sailing the high seas as a Chief Engineer, he decided (initially as a joke) to open a distillery dedicated to rum, a first in the state of Victoria where whisky- and beer-making ops are far more common. His research into the matter took him on a whirlwind 3-month 70-distillery tour of the world after which he bought the biggest still he could afford from Italy (before he had actually done a lick of distilling himself), installed it and ran it in, arranged for casks, sources of supply, tested the results and started making stock to lay down to age (as required by Australian law for it to be labelled as rum). 

This “Silver” is essentially an unaged white cane spirit, molasses based, distilled on a hybrid pot still with a thumper and a 7-plate column tacked on (similar to that used by A1710 in Martinique or Sampan over in Viet Nam) rested for three months in stainless steel tanks and then diluted down to 40% to be issued.  There’s a 57% “Navy” version that tickles my fancy — a lot! — and which I really want to get to know better, but let’s just stick with what we have for now.

Nose first.  Well…that’s different. It starts off with dry cardboard and saline solution, together with new wet paint, and the plush aromas of real fake naugahyde leather in Leisure Suit Larry’s brand new second-hand car (or should that be Corinthian leather?). Let’s call it a new plastic something – shoes, cars, wrappings, whole rooms…that’s what this initially smells like, before settling down to become more normal. At that point whiffs of sugar water infused with crisp and light fruits emerge: watermelon juice, light pineapples, and a bowl of fresh grapes, strawberries and apples in a cold antiseptic kitchen (I know how that sounds). Oh yeah, plus some ginger and very ripe plums.

The palate retains its brininess, though not to any kind of stylistic look-what-I-can-do excess, thank heaven. Here it gets spicy, even sharp, and notes of pumpkin juice, carrot-slushies, melons and papaya run right out of the gate. Light background of the sweeter, tamer fruits, watermelons, pears, that kind of thing.  Maybe a pineapple slice (just one). It’s quite robust at 40% and dials in nicely, transitioning to a short and breathy, dry, rather easygoing finish.  This coughed up a few final notes of fresh olive oil over toast, ginger, semi-ripe yellow mangoes, and a final defiant touch of sweetish pimento.

This was a white rum I quite liked, though given my personal preferences I think that Navy version would make my 3rd list of Great Whites more easily. It’s recognizably a non-cane-juice rum, has tastes that are distinct and not standard (always a plus when done right) and while I can’t say it screams “Australia!” into my shell-pink, it certainly does the nation no dishonour, and holds its own really well against distilleries far older and with a greater recognition quotient. 

“Uncomplicated, unpretentious, and unruly, JimmyRum’s [rums] are distinctive and downright delicious” goes the blurb on Visit Victoria website, and while allowances must be made for a local website punching up a favourite son, overall I can’t disagree. There are 20+ distilleries and breweries in Victoria making (you guessed it) mostly whisky and beer.  There’s definitely a place for an outfit like this there too, especially when it boasts a  sense of humour, a decent product and a desire to take it to the next level. Almost makes me want to move there and make sheep’s eyes at Matilda.

(#879)(79/100) ⭐⭐⭐


Other notes

  • As with all the Australian rums reviewed as part of the 2021 Aussie Advent Calendar, a very special shout out and tip of the trilby to Mr. And Mrs. Rum, who sent me a complete set free of charge. Thanks again to you both for enabling my desire to write about Australian rums almost completely unavailable elsewhere.
  • Some more technical details: molasses sourced from Sunshine Sugar NSW (Manildra group), one of the last fully Australian owned Sugar producers in Australia. Yeast and fermentation: done in two 5,000-liter fermenters and are temperature controlled to less than 25ºC with an initial Brix of about 19. Unaged: rested for 3 months in stainless steel tanks.
  • McPherson’s research suggested a 3-5 year period before any distillery started showing a profit, no matter whether it made beer, whisky, gin or rum.  To make cash flow while stocks were ageing and sales built, he added a tasting bar to the premises where people could come after a distillery tour and sample the wares and buy food; sold unaged cane spirit; and dabbled in some indie bottlings like a very well received Barbados blend (future ones from Jamaica, Mauritius and Martinique are planned).
  • A JimmyRum Silver – not sure of was this one or an earlier version – won an award for Champion Cane Spirit in the 2021 Australian Spirits Awards.
  • A long September 2021 FB interview by RumTribe featured Mr. McPherson as their guest.  I have drawn upon it for parts of the company profile paragraph.
Nov 282019
 

It must be something about the French – they’re opening micro distilleries all over the place (Chalong Bay, Sampan, Whisper, Issan and Toucan are examples) and almost all of them are channelling the agricole ethos of the French West Indies, working with pure cane juice and bringing some seriously interesting unaged blancs to the attention of the world. Any time I get bored with the regular parade of rums from the lands of the pantheon, all I have to do is reach for one of them to get jazzed up about rum, all over again. í

The latest of these little companies is from Vietnam, which is rife with sugar cane juice (“Nuoc Mia”) as well as locally made bottom-house rice- or molasses-originating artisanal spirits called “rượu” (ruou); these operate in the shadows of any Government regulation, registration or oversight — many are simple moonshineries.  But Saigon Liquorists is not one of these, being the formally incorporated enterprise of two expatriate Frenchmen Clément Jarlier and Clément Daigre, who saw the cane juice liquor being sold on the streets in Ho Chi Minh City and smelled a business opportunity. The fact that one was involved in spirits distribution in Vietnam while the other had both broker experience and knew about the distillation of cognac didn’t hurt wither – already they had a background in the industry.

Photo (c) Saigon Liquorists, from FB

Sourcing a 200-liter single column still in 2017 from China, they obtained fresh cane, then the juice, experimented for three months with fermentation, distillation, cutting, finally got the profile they were after, and rolled out the first Rhum Mia in October that year at a local charity gala. In their current production system, the sugarcane comes from Tien Giang in the Mekong Delta, just south of Ho Chi Minh City, via a supplier who collects it from farmers in the area and does the initial processing. The sugarcane is peeled, and pressed once to get the first juice. That is then vacuum-packed in 5L bags and loaded into refrigerated trucks (this slows down fermentation), which transport the bags the 70km to the distillery.  There fermentation is begun and lasts about five days, before being run through the still – what comes out the other end is around 77% ABV. The rum is rested in inert, locally-made traditional clay vessels called chums (used in rice liquor fermentation in Vietnam) for eight months and then slowly diluted with water over the final two months to 45% – a strength chosen to appeal to the local market where Mia’s initial sales were made. 

The strength might prove key to broader acceptance in foreign markets where 50-55% ABV is more common for juice-based unaged rhums (Toucan had a similar issue with the No.4, as you may recall). When I nosed this 45% rhum, its initial smells took me aback – there was a deep grassy kind of aroma, mixed in with a whole lot of glue, book bindings, wax, old papers, varnish and furniture polish, that kind of thing. It reminded me of my high school studies done in GT’s National Library, complete with the mustiness and dry dust of an old chesterfield gone to mothballs, under which are stacked long unopened suitcases from Edwardian times. And after all that, there came the real rum stuff – grass, dill, sweet gherkins, sugar water, white guavas and watermelon, plus a nice clear citrus hint. Quite a combo.

The rhum distanced itself from the luggage, furniture and old tomes when I tasted it.  The attack was crisp and clean on the tongue, sharp and spicy, an unambiguous blade of pure herbal and grassy flavours – sweet sugar cane sap, dill, crushed lime leaves, brine, olives, with just a touch of fingernail polish and turpentine at the back end, as fleeting as a roué’s sly wink.  After about half an hour – longer than most will ever have this thing gestating in their glasses – faint musty dry earth smells returned, but were mixed in with sugar water, cucumbers and pimentos, cumin, and lemongrass, so that was all good. The finish was weak and somewhat quick, quite aromatic and dry, with nice hints of flowers, lemongrass, and tart fruits.

Ultimately, it’s a reasonably tasty tropical drink that would do fine in (and may even have been expressly designed for) a ti-punch, but as a rhum to have on its own, it needs some torqueing up, since the flavours are there, but too difficult to tease out and come to grips with. Based on the experience I’ve had with other micro-distilleries’ blancs (all of which are stronger), the Mia is damned intriguing though. It’s different and unusual, and in my correspondence with him, Clement suggested that this difference comes from the fact that the sugar cane peel is discarded before pressing which makes for a more grassy taste, and he takes more ‘heads’ away than most, which reduces flavour somewhat…but also the hangover, which, he remarked, is a selling point in Vietnam.

These days I don’t drink enough to get seriously wasted any more (it interferes with my ability to taste more rums), but if this easy-on-the-head agricole-style rhum really does combine both taste and a hangover-free morning after, and if the current fascination with grass-to-glass rums continues in the exclusive bars of the world – well, I’m not sure how you could stop the sales from exploding. Next time I’m in the Real World, I’ll keep an eye out for it myself.

(#680)(76/100)


Other Notes

  • All bottles, labels and corks are sourced in Vietnam and efforts are underway to begin exporting to Asia and Europe.
  • Production was around 9000 bottles a year back in 2018, so it might have increased since then.
  • This batch was from 2018
  • Plans are in play to distill both gins and vodkas in the future.
  • Hat tip to Reuben Virasami, who spotted me the sample and alerted me to the company.  Also to Tom Walton, who explained what “chums” were. And many thanks to Clément Daigre of SL, who patiently ran me through the history of the company, and its production methods.
Nov 192018
 

It was the words “Grand Arôme” that caught my eye: I knew that term.  “Galion”, which I seemed to remember but didn’t, quite. And “Martinique,” hardly seeming to go with either.  It had no brothers and sisters to its left and right on the shelf, which, in a shop stocking rows and rows of Plantations, Rum Nation, BBR, Saint James, Bally, HSE, Dillon, Neisson and all the others, struck me as strange (that and the rather “poor-relation-from-the-backcountry” cheap label and tinfoil cap).  What on earth was this thing?

I bought it on a whim and cracked it in the company of some other agricoles that night and did not one lick of research until after it was done: that was probably the right decision, going in blind like that, because here is a rum which lurks behind the Martinique canon the same way the bottle did on that shelf, and it’s rare enough these days to find a rum you didn’t know existed, especially from an island with so many different rhums of its own that are well known.

Rums and rhums titled “Grand Arôme” are high-ester products much associated with French island rhums in general (Reunion Island’s Savanna HERR in particular) and have a lot in common with the New Wave of Jamaican rums we’re currently seeing from Hampden, Worthy Park and others, with their own classification titles like Plummer, Wedderburn and Continental Flavoured.  They are all branches from the same tree – hooches with boosted ester counts to make for a enormously flavourful product.

And you could sense that on the nose, which was one to drive Cyrano de Bergerac into conniption fits.  It lacked the smooth warmth of an aged product, but whether it did or didn’t spend time sleeping in wood, it reeked like a white monster from Haiti, even at the low strength.  Olives, brine, licorice, black pepper, some vanilla, prunes and pencil shavings were immediately noticeable, in a sort of delirious free-for-all for dominance, followed by a lessening intensity over time as it opened up and provided some secondary aromas of vanilla, bags of fleshy fruits (peaches, apricots, prunes, plums, citrus), very light caramel and some aromatic tobacco. Not entirely original, but very very pungent, which for a rum issued at 43% was quite impressive – it was certainly more interesting than the light Cuban-style San Pablo or milquetoast Dictador Best of 1977 I happened to have on hand.  Actually, that smell it reminded me rather less of an agricole than of a Jamaican, with all the funk and rotten bananas and midden heaps (akin to the Long Pond TECC but nowhere near as intense).

The pattern repeated itself as I tasted it, starting off sharp, uncouth, jagged, raw…and underneath all that was some real quality. There were caramel, salty cashews, marshmallows, brown sugar (truly an agricole? I wrote in my notes), plasticine, wax crayons, brine, olives, sugar water, pineapple, raisins, a solid citrus heft to it, and again a lot of varied ripe fruits (and some not so ripe that were just beginning to go off).  It was kind of sweet and salt and sour all at once – practically a roadmap to the esters it squirted from every pore. But what was nice about it, was that if left to rest, it turned out to be smooth enough to sip while retaining that edge of raw quality that would make it a great mixer, and it’s got all the character of profile which the San Pablo (both the Gold and the White) so conspicuously lacked.  Even the finish demonstrated that – it was short, but quite intense, with lingering notes of citrus, light anise, molasses, fruits, raisins and a last hint of salt.

My initial scribbles, transcribed here verbatim, read “Can’t tell what this is, need more background work. Says from Martinique, but it backs away from the crisp/clean agricole party line; seems more like a Jamaica-Martinique stepchild?” (Yeah, I really do write like that).  Because to me, it presented as a hybrid at the very least, suggesting intriguing paths for rum makers – a combination of agricole and molasses rum, made perhaps en passant, but certainly not lacking in brio, aggro or tempo.

So what is it? A local rum made for the backcountry and not for export?  A trial balloon of sorts to suss out the market? A failed attempt at something different, an experiment that somehow got loose from the lab? A bottle of the chairman’s private stash that got smuggled out in someone’s trousers?

Not quite.  It’s Martinique’s answer to the Jamaican bad boys, made by the last remaining sugar factory on Martinique, Usine du Galion, which has the added distinction of also being the last distillery on the island to make rum from molasses (they source cane from around the island, from areas not AOC labelled). It’s mystifying why there’s such a lack of awareness of the Galion rum itself, but on reflection it’s perhaps not so surprising, because — according to the estimable Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany who I contacted about this odd lack of profile — the commercial bottled rum is peanuts to them. Their real core business is sugar, and that part of the operation is huge, their primary focus. They installed a column still in the factory to make rum in bulk, which is then almost all exported to Europe, used primarily in the tobacco/candy/pastry industries and pharmaceuticals (probably perfumes).

Map of Martinique distilleries courtesy of Benoit Bail

There are only two Galion rums I’m aware of at this point: a white I’ve never seen at around 50-55%, and this one at 43%, which, according to Nico Rumlover’s enormously informative article here, is made from molasses, fermented with the addition of vinasse for anything between eight to sixteen days in wooden vats, using indigenous yeasts in a continuous cycle through the columnar still.  Apparently it is unaged, with a small amount of caramel added to give the brown colour and generally limited to the ester midrange of around 500 g/hlpa – squarely in the no-man’s land between Wedderburn (200-300 g/hlpa) and Continental Flavoured (700-1600 g/hlpa).

And it’s a hell of a rum, I’ll tell you that – Matt Pietrek in his article on “Beyond Jamaican Funk” mentioned Galion and what they were up to, but missed this under-the-radar rum and suggested that if you wanted French Island ester bombs, Reunion was the place to go.  You might still have to, since the Galion is either available only at the factory, as a blender’s sample from Scheer in Amsterdam (at a whopping 61% ABV), or in some small, dusty forgotten shelf somewhere in Europe. But if you can pick it up, think of it as a high ester funk bomb that could be seen as a cheerfully insouciant French bird flipped at Jamaica; it proves emphatically that you don’t need to go all the way to the Indian Ocean to get yourself some, and provides a really cool comparator to those flavourful rums from all the other places we are only now getting to know so well.

(#569)(85/100)

Jul 252016
 

Jamel

Original enough to make it worth buying just to experience it.  Nose is startling, taste a lot better.

(#289 / 81/100)

***

In trying the Jamel, Leblon and Sagatiba cachaças together this one stood out quite markedly, even more so when ranked against the German company Delicana’s three local-wood-aged variants that I’ve also tried.  The L’Esprit Brazilian rum might have set the bar high and remains the one I prefer the most (so far) but if you stick with it, this one is pretty damned good too…and this is one of those times that if they did add something in, it was probably the right decision to make for anyone who has the courage to take cachaças neat. What it also does is showcase some of the divergences of these rums from the norm, which goes a far way explaining the lack of acceptance of cachaças worldwide.

The unaged white 40% rum is made by Indústria Missiato de Bebidas Ltda formed in 1958 in Santa Rita do Passa Quatro (in the state of Sao Paolo). Armando Missiato and his brothers started the ball rolling by being general spirits merchants in wholesale and retail, and in 1961 diversified to producing their own cachaça (the “61”).  The success allowed the company to build a modernized plant in the 1970s and they have gone the route of major liquor local companies in other countries, producing a number of spirits (including vodkas, energy drinks and cachaças).  Unsurprisingly, little of this ever emerged to trouble the minds of rummies anywhere outside the country and likely they are still best known in Brazil.  The company continues to be held and run as a family business, and has expanded not only into other states of the country, but to the North and South American, and European, export market.

So, moving on, I said it was a pretty nifty drink and wasn’t joking…but one has to stick with it, and at the end, when jotting down all the notes, I realized it had become a lot more enjoyable out of sheer perseverance.  Take the nose, for example – it had the heated, tart, spicy, almost-sweetness of apple cider with a few overripe apples still inside, plus brine, wax, and nuts.  Unimpressed, I put it aside to work on the others, yet ten minutes later, perhaps in violation of the laws of the rum universe, it actually smelled worse – it moved to rotting vegetation in humid tropical rain, dead leaves, wet cardboard and (I shudder at the memory), yes, wet dog. There was some rubber and other phenolic stuff rounding things off, but let’s just say it did nothing to impress me and I wondered whether I had made a mistake jumping into this jungle of undiscovered rums…right up to the point where I actually tasted it.

Wow!  Where did all the unpleasantness go?  This was like an utterly different rum. Warm, a little spicy and a shade less than medium bodied, it was an altogether remarkable turnaround. Sugar water, light and sweet with citrus peel, crisp white-fruit notes, it was sparkling and clear and joyously young.  There were some faint ashy textures to it which were in no way excessive (a hint was all),  melding well into a sort of easy creaminess of a delicately flavoured yoghurt, with an emphatic exclamation point of wood and smoke closing it off.  It was sprightly, it was a little off-kilter, but miles better than the initial entrance had suggested.  Even on the finish this odd quality persisted, giving up individual points of swank, some weird tree-sap (reminiscent of dripping capadullah vines and the Rum Nation pot still white Jamaican), and a last flirt of sweet lemon pop.

Overall, nose aside, it was quite a pleasing drink to have on its own. Key to my emergent appreciation was the fact that taste-wise it didn’t go wildly off on a tangent, and some effort appeared to have been made to ensure its appeal to a broader, maybe more international, consumer base by tamping down the wilder olfactory excesses of cheerful Brazilian energy, while losing little of the character that makes it distinctive. So far, my sojourn into the Amazon has been too brief, and not provided the excellence I’m sure lurks under their green canopy.  But this cachaça suggests the potential, and convinces me that bigger, better, bolder and badder is is out there, somewhere. I just have to keep trying, and the Jamel points the way.


Other notes

  • The label, miles away from the cool modernist detachment of the Leblon or Sagatiba, channeling some of the bright power of the artworks of Milhazes or Carybé (worth looking up), does raise a question – why is it termed a “sweet” cachaça?  Under Brazilian law sugar can be added to cachaças, and I have no particular beef with it one way or the other (as long as it is disclosed), it’s just that there is no such notation either on this label, or the website.  So I make mention of it for the curious, but will leave it there.
Dec 132012
 

A spiced Rumzilla. Interesting taste, lacking the cheer and laughter of the 151 proofers, and has nothing of the insane charm of the SMWS Longpond 81.2%

Few “rums” scare me like the Stroh 80 does. It’s like a Tuzemak on steroids, with much of the same obscurely vegetal and spiced choice of flavour profile, boosted by the resident blast bunny to a massive 160 proof that’s as comfortable on the nose and tongue as a prostate exam given by Captain Hook. Stroh’s drone-delivered plastique of an overproof has always has been, to me, as self-aggrandizing as the suicide wings served with waivers I have to sign at my local bar. It is an absurdly large proof driving a rum that is to sophisticated tippling as a sledgehammer is to stone-carving — a tool way too crude to do anything more than destroy everything in its path.

It fails as a sipping rum of course, entirely because of its strength (even though that’s is how I had to try it). In fact, some argue it fails as a rum period, because it’s not made directly from sugar cane juice or molasses. Mixing this rum is not only recommended, but encouraged, because if you have it by itself, it’s a bit like choosing a triple espresso instead of a single latte. It makes your drink just a shade … savage.

The Stroh 80 is a spiced, unaged spirit and not a spiced, aged rum – therein lies something of my disdain for it as a rum. One could reasonably ask what’s the difference, my response being that a rum is not made from sugar beets (as Stroh is reputed to be), is aged (even if only for a year), and Stroh’s lacks anything of the character all rums possess. I mean, observe the nose – after the initial blast of characteristic overproof plastique and plasticine and rubberized fumes dissipate and you recover some of your sanity (and find your nose again), what you’ll get is not caramel or burnt sugar or anything remotely resembling what you may be used to – but cinnamon, root beer, ginger and christmas cake spices, wrapped up in a hellacious burn.

And on the palate, it’s so strong it’s like getting a tattoo done on your tongue with a rusty set of needles by a guy who’s already high on this stuff. Your tongue will numb and turn into pterodactyl hide on the spot and your throat will feel it’s been savaged by a velociraptor. Sure you’ll get strong, amazingly intense sensations of black tea, ginger snaps, Tanti Merle’s christmas spices, some dried fruit (raisins and cherries for the most part), and a blast of cinnamon off the scale. It’s also oddly buttery, creamy, which is kind of interesting, and unusual. You may enjoy this. But at end, the titanic nature of the drink just overwhelms: as I also noted in the SMWS Longpond 9 year old, 160 proof is simply excessive and serves no sane purpose beyond bragging rights (though the Sunset Very Strong 84.5% seemed to have found a way to work around that). The finish is about all I find truly epic, because, like with all overproofs, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, and is surprisingly pain free (perhaps because I had already completed my writhing pain dance and had nothing left to scream about) – it’s heated and so long that one sip did me for ages. I kept thinking I’d been pilfering Santa’s cookies an hour later.

Stroh is an Austrian spirit, made by the Klagenfurt company since 1832, and available in variations ranging from 38% through to 80%. It was probably made from sugar beets deriving from an ethanol base to which spices were added because Austria-Hungary had no tropical colonies of its own to provide the raw stock. I’ve read that currently they use sugar-cane derived ethanol, yet when I was doing the Stroh 54 review some time back, I was advised by a reader that it’s still sugar beet based, so there may be some clarification required here. In any event, Stroh is sold as such and meant primarily as a cocktail ingredient to make Flaming B-52s, jagertee, traditional Austrian pastries, and other strong punches where some oomph is required. And of course, it’s great for chest puffing exercises by all Austrians.

The great thing about rums is that there is a real lack of agreed-upon international standards and classifications (and enforcement of those standard that do exist), and so just about anyone can make something from molasses or sugar cane or what have you, call it a rum, and who is to say different? The really bad thing about rums is that there is a real lack of agreed-upon international standards and classifications (and enforcement of those standard that do exist), and so just about anyone can make something from molasses, sugar cane and what have you, call it a rum, and who is to say different? That’s part of the problem with the 80, which is so far off the scale that all the unprepared can do is shudder, retch yesterday’s breakfast onto the dog, and reach for the Doorly’s. Stroh’s – probably feeling they wanted to take the crown of the overproofs – distilled a drink for the Junkers class as a test for their manhood, meant to render any besoffner comatose on the spot.

What do I think on balance? Well, I sure wouldn’t drink this sucker neat for anything except to write this review: it could be weaponized with too little additional effort. On the other hand, I do like that creamy, spiced up profile for its uniqueness, yes; and the finish is biblical. And to be fair, Stroh’s is quite clear that they don’t make this as a sipping, er, rum. But if you’re feeling like you need to impress the fraulein over in the ecke, and try drinking it that way, be warned: Stroh 80 really does dislike you, does not want to be taken solo, and it will hurt you. My recommendation is simply to leave it in the punch bowl for which it was made, and not risk damage to your liver by guzzling it on its own.

(#135. 75/100)


Other Notes

Jan 292012
 

Impressive sipping-quality light rum from a region you’d almost expect to have many more darker variations. If your tastes run into the stronger and more distinct profiles, this may be a bit too subtle, being more more shy in its release than most. But it is well worth it.

First posted 29 January 2012 on Liquorature


Most of us drink rum originating from the West Indies that are aged in oak barrels, and so we make certain assumptions about our taste profiles: this is why, when we come across a rum from India (Old Port deluxe), Australia (Bundaberg), the Phillipines (Tanduay) or elsewhere, we can immediately sense, without putting it in so many words, that there’s something different about it. There’s a subtlety of otherness in the mouthfeel, the aroma, the taste (especially the Bundie, but never mind) which immediately perks up our beaks. My own theory is that this relates to the different climates and soils in which the source sugar cane is grown or maybe even different barrels. Who knows?

The rums of a relative newcomer to the rum world stage, Kōloa, seem to possess some of this characteristic. Made on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i by the Kōloa Rum Company, they utilise crystallized sugar derived from cane grown in the west of the island in the shadow of Kauai’s Mt. Wai`ale`ale, in what may be the wettest place on earth (for the rumgeeks among us, the yeast strain used in fermentation supposedly hails from Guadeloupe). The distillation itself takes place in a 1210-gallon, 1947-made copper still (much better for imparting subtle tastes to the end product than a modern stainless steel variation) which was trained, trucked and shipped all the way from Pennsylvania – it is composed of a pot still combined with a seven-plate column still and condenser, and the company makes small batch, twice distilled rums using it.

All these elements come together in a very impressive product which, while not being quite as crazy as the Ozzy-inspired bat-shredding Bundaberg, is easily discernible from the regular Caribbean or Central American products I see more regularly.

Bought on a whim (I buy a lot on whims, largely because Calgary being what it is, if I don’t get it now, I may not get it tomorrow), I was more than pleased with the result. The rum itself was pale gold – nearly straw-coloured – with a light-medium body, and initially I almost confused it with an agricole (trust me – an agricole this was definitely not). The bottle was topped by a plastic screw-top, was fully transparent, and the label was plain white and relatively simple, though not minimalist.

The scent immediately hinted at a rum determinedly taking its own course in life: soft, a shade delicate, subtle. I swear that at the beginning I had zero clue what the thing actually was, there was so little normal nose on the liquid. Gradually, on opening up, certain elements began to make their prescence felt: white flowers, cherries, a vague herbal and grassy background mixed up with creamy caramel. But very little darkness from molasses, oddly enough.

It’s the palate that made this rum an excellent buy. There was some spice to it, and a bit of medicinal background; thankfully these were minor detours from an overall extraordinary arrival: a creamy soft butteriness on the tongue, merging into vanilla, nuts, honey and delicate caramel, chocolate and perhaps bananas. The thing seemed to have no real “rum taste” to it at all, by which I mean the usual burnt sugar / caramel / molasses combo – and it worked wonderfully. Smooth and easy and different. Wow. I liked this taste so much I didn’t even bother to try mixing it, just took one glass, another, then asked myself why the bottle was half empty. The fade was, admittedly, somewhat more anticlimatic – it was medium long, with an exit of faint citrus and fleshy pineapple notes, some honey and rained-on new-mown hay drying in the sun. Gentle and easy all round. Not excellent, but pretty damned good.

What makes Kōloa Hawaiian rum so intriguing is that the rum I describe above was not aged at all. This meant that the flavour profile had no elements deriving from oak barrels (maybe that was why I got no “rum taste”?), and relied wholly and solely on its own ingredients, its own strengths and the skills of Kōloa’s blenders. That skill must be quite something given what I tasted.

Kōloa is one of those distilleries about which I have more information than I know what to do with – the opposite is usually true. Let me wrap it up this way: given the Hawaiian islands’ long involvement with sugar and the sea, it’s no surprise that rum has been part of the maritime culture for a very long time.  What is surprising is that this brand of rums is the first legally distilled popskull ever made on Kaua’i. The company was incorporated in 2001 and it took years for them to jump through all required bureaucratic hoops to get up and running in 2009. In their very first year of operations they won a Gold Medal at the 2010 Rum Renaissance in Miami for their Dark Rum (and again in 2011), and then another medal for this one in the 2010 Polished Palate Rum Festival awards. The word started filtering out that there was a new distillery to watch for, out of Hawaii. On the basis of this one, I’d say that word is entirely justified.

(#091. 82/100)


Other Notes

  • Although I did not ask it at the time, it seems reasonable to assume that if the rum is unaged, then the colour derives from a caramel E105 additive, as rum is colourless as it comes off the still.