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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

April 6, 2014


Sunday malternatives, rhums and rums

Let’s keep learning rum. I think we’re making good progress, but the list of worthy malternatives remains short. We’ll try to avoid the sugary, molassy ones today…

Saint James 'rhum vieux agricole' (42%, OB, Martinique, +/-2013)

Saint James 'rhum vieux agricole' (42%, OB, Martinique, +/-2013) Two stars I believe Saint James is the largest distillery in Martinique. This should be pretty commercial stuff, said to be around 4 years old. Colour: orangey amber. Remember orangey hues hint at… caramel. Yes with whisky as well. Nose: it’s a fairly pleasant, very compact, kind of bourbony rum, with a lot of vanilla and toasted oak, then oranges and a massive amount of caramel and fudge, then a curious feeling of rye and geranium flowers. Not unpleasant, really. Mouth: a little thin this time, with again a feeling of bourbon that should come from some very active oak. Sawdust, bitter oranges, orange drops, corn syrup and caramel. What’s quite curious is that there isn’t much sugar cane as such, and yet it’s an agricole. Finish: not very long but it leaves some pepper on your tongue. Comments: not quite sure this was meant for sipping, but I’d say it’s pretty honest rhum. Just not for sipping… I like the fact that it’s not very sugary. SGP:621 - 70 points.

Let’s try to find other young ‘Martiniquans’…

HSE ‘Rhum Vieux Agricole’ (42%, Habitation Saint Etienne, Martinique, +/-2013)

HSE ‘Rhum Vieux Agricole’ (42%, Habitation Saint Etienne, Martinique, +/-2013) Two stars and a half Pretty much the same pedigree, but this should come from Distillerie Simon. Not too sure, things are shady… It’s not expensive rhum, around 25€ a bottle. Colour: gold. Nose: this one is much aromatic, with many more tropical fruits, which some might find a little too much. A lot of coconut and bananas, then vanilla, honey and oranges, then just a few soft spices. Very easy and quite sexy. Ahem. After a few minutes, whiffs of wood smoke. Mouth: same feeling after the Saint James, this is fruitier but also oakier and spicier. Not rye, no geranium, rather bananas and cinnamon. It’s also quite bourbony I have to say, must be the oak. Finish: rather short, on oranges, cinnamon and white pepper. A little drying (tea). Comments: again, honest and loyal stuff. There’s rather more happening, actually. SGP:621 - 77 points.

While we’re at it, we could also have an older HSE…

HSE ‘Très Vieux Rhum’ (45%, Habitation Saint Etienne, Martinique, Réserve Spéciale, +/-2013)

HSE ‘Très Vieux Rhum’ (45%, Habitation Saint Etienne, Martinique, Réserve Spéciale, +/-2013) Three starsAgricole again of course, and ‘very old’ this time, that is to say around § years here. Colour: full gold. Nose: we’re closer to the Saint James this time, with more roundness, syrups and vanilla and rather less fresh fruits. But this is more complex, even if the bourbony side is big again. Not saying bourbon isn’t complex, naturally. Funny notes of wafers filled with raspberry jam. Ah, childhood memories! Mouth: same feeling, the style of the Saint James, only ‘better’. Rye, oak, vanilla, oranges, orange blossom water (litres!) and beeswax, then more drying spices. Strong tea. Finish: rather long, with oranges, nervous touches of lime and oak spices in the aftertaste. Oh and rye. Comments: I find this quite excellent despite the fact that it’s very oak-oriented. The tempo was good. SGP:631 - 80 points.

More Martinique? Your wish is my command, we have more ‘vieux’ stuff (which means very young, of course)…

Dillon ‘Rhum Vieux Agricole’ (43%, OB, Martinique, +/-2013)

Dillon ‘Rhum Vieux Agricole’ (43%, OB, Martinique, +/-2013) Two stars A very popular brand in France, you find these in every supermarkets. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a pushier one again, very aromatic and quite simple. Oranges everywhere, bitter ones, plain ones, Seville ones… Add to that some maple syrup and this is it, more or less. Another one that isn’t unpleasant, just very, very simple. Mouth: same. Oranges, oranges, oranges and just a few spices, from the usual cinnamon and cloves to hints of caraway and juniper. It’s got something of aged gin. Finish: short, sweet, a little sugary. So less spicy than the others, and certainly easier. Comments: it’s downable, albeit probably a little dull. SGP:630 - 73 points.

Enough Martinique, let’s have a commercial Guadeloupean ‘Vieux’ instead…

Damoiseau ‘Rhum Vieux’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, +/-2013)

Damoiseau ‘Rhum Vieux’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, +/-2013) Two stars Damoiseau is made at Bellevue, and we know that Bellevue can be superb (as several indies have recently shown us). This is approx 3 years old. Young stuff! Colour: full gold. Nose: yes! It’s another world, more phenolic, with more sugar cane, oils… It’s not heavy Caroni of course but we’re going towards that style. It’s also much earthier and rootier. This is (young) rhum! Mouth: sadly, what we found in the nose isn’t quite on the palate. We rather have liquorice and candy sugar, which isn’t bad but it’s not quite enough. A little short in flavours. Finish: relatively long this time, but monolithic. Big liquorice. Comments: I suppose this is just too young, but the foundations are there. I really enjoyed the nose. SGP:551 - 76 points (the SGP is better balanced).

I’ve got another Guadeloupean that I really ant to try but as that one was bottled at a very high strength, let’s rather have a few other lighter ones – from other parts of the world.

English Harbour 5 yo (40%, OB, Antigua, +/-2013)

English Harbour 5 yo (40%, OB, Antigua, +/-2013) Two starsWe’re in Antigua this time. I have next to no experience here. Colour: full gold. Nose: I like. It’s got these notes of old petrol, garage, oils, gravel… So it’s a little Jamaican style, except that all this tends to vanish in the air, leaving more ‘dull’ fruits. Very evanescent, I’d say. Mouth: sadly, it’s a little too sweet for my taste, when you can taste sugar, it’s all over. Same with molasses, of course, which doesn’t always happen with molasses-based rums of course. They can be stunning. But this is weakish, despite some more interesting spots here and there. Such as droplets of liquid tar, or pitch. I also find unexpected touches of cooked asparagus. Finish: short and sugary. Definitely not the best part. Comments: I’d love to be able to taste this with less sugar and a higher strength. The spirit inside seems to be great. SGP:730 - 73 points.

Let’s resort to some low strength Guyanese, before we let the stronger ones enter the dance…

Enmore 1990 (40%, Mezan, Guyana, Demerara, +/-2013)

Enmore 1990 (40%, Mezan, Guyana, Demerara, +/-2013) Four stars We’ve already tried quite few very good ones by Mezan. Only the strengths are a little ridiculous, aren’t they. Now, it’s better than 37.5% vol. Remember Enmore is/was made in a wooden continuous still, from molasses. Colour: white wine (great!) Nose: yessss. Superb herbal, oily, phenolic, olive-y profile, very typical. Something medicinal as well, bandages, then more fresh oranges and quite a lot of peat. Of course it’s not peat but the smoky feeling is very similar. Not all Enmores are great, but this one is, let’s only hope it won’t be too weak on the palate. Mouth: no, the spirit is big enough, the low strength holds. Well, for a while, because it tends to nosedive after fifty seconds. A crying shame, because the spirit is pretty perfect, phenolic, petroly, olive-y, smoky, herbal… There’s even a Laphroaigness, believe it or not. Finish: unexpectedly long and, guess what, as salty as an Islayer. Comments: we’re almost on Islay. If you’re an Islay fan, and never tried these rums, I think you should try to source a bottle. Yes, even at 40% vol. Watch out, not all Enmores are as ‘peaty’ as this. SGP:453 - 86 points.

Let’s fly back to Martinique, with an indie one…

Galion 8 yo 2002 (45%, Alambic Classique, Martinique, +/-2011)

Galion 8 yo 2002 (45%, Alambic Classique, Martinique, +/-2011) Four stars and a half AFAIK there is no Galion distillery in Martinique, so this is a nom de plume, so to speak. Let’s see if it’s agricole… Colour: gold. Nose: ha, yes! It’s a perfect sooty, grassy and, err, agricoly one, essentially on raw sugar cane. That’s great. Behind that, peaches in syrup and then more and more olive brine. Even black olives. Great! Mouth: quite perfect. No, very perfect, lemony and tarry, then very, very olive-y, with a lot of salt and behind all that this time, a lot of smoked ham. Serious! And ashes as well. This tastes like genuine artisan agricole, we’re very far from the ‘commercial’ brands. Great character. Finish: very long, on tar, sugar cane and black olives. And salt. Comments: I’m impressed. I wanna know who distilled this! Once again, whisky bottlers show us that they might be the better placed to select great rums. SGP:453 - 89 points.

Let’s see if my newly found theory works ;-)…

Barbados 12 yo (46%, Cadenhead, Green Label, +/-2012)

Barbados 12 yo (46%, Cadenhead, Green Label, +/-2012) Four stars This ‘should’ have been made with the ex-Rockley still that is now located within the West Indies Rum Distillery. It’s a story that seems to be similar to that of the old Demerara distilleries. Colour: white wine. Nose: ha! The story is similar and the style is similar. It’s just another petroly, tarry and smoky rum, very natural, without any dull fruitiness and no oak either. Once again, we’re more or less on Islay. Mouth: quite! It’s less briny than the Galion, rather less extreme, mineral and saline, and a notch sweeter and rounder. Having said that, we’re more or less in the same league. Very oily mouth feel. Finish: long and saltier. There are even kippers, imagine! Comments: another Islay of rum, it seems. I’m far from being familiar with this ‘stuff’, but I sure will try to dig deeper… SGP:452 - 87 points.

Things are improving, aren’t they? Let’s go on…

Travellers 8 yo 2005/2013 (49,5%, The Whisky Agency, Belize, 282 bottles)

Travellers 8 yo 2005/2013 (49,5%, The Whisky Agency, Belize, 282 bottles) Three stars Belize? It seems that I’ve tried only one rum from Belize so far, and that I enjoyed it (Fair Rum - WF 82) Colour: dark gold. Nose: it’s another style, somewhere between the petroly ones and the sweet/rounded ones. What comes out first is some orange liqueur with touches of smoke and walnut cake, roasted chestnuts and then more butterscotch and croissants. It’s actually only in the background that a little tar and engine oil are hiding. A kind of crossbreed, so far. Mouth: same feeling, expect that it’s even sweeter. A lot of honey, toasted oak, jams, plums, raisins, bananas… And then again, in the background, some soft spices (Sichuan pepper, very obvious in fact) and just small touches of liquorice and tar. Finish: long, rather more on charred oak, vanilla, maple syrup… It’s that ‘bourbonness’ that we first found in the commercial Martiniquans. Comments: rather less my style than the wonderful Caroni that came out at the same time, but we’re still way above average. SGP:731 - 80 points.

Let’s push it all harder…

Caroni 1997/2013 (61.3%, The Rum Swedes, Trinidad, bourbon, 249 bottles)

Caroni 1997/2013 (61.3%, The Rum Swedes, Trinidad, bourbon, 249 bottles) Four stars Oh, no! Colour: dark amber. Nose: ah, yes! Now, this is very strong. Too strong, I think, we’ll need water to unlock it. Loved the pine wood smoke, though… And I don’t know if that’s because these guys are from Sweden, but I’m getting ‘sauna smells’. Strange oils and such… With water: hem… To be honest I think there’s a little too much oak, which translates into quite some ginger. On the other hand, we’re still in a sauna… and maybe in a Corsican eucalyptus forest. Huge eucalyptus! Mouth (neat): terrifyingly huge, invading, smoky, peppery, piny and oaky… It’s almost like that chilli sauce they give you in pizzerias. Is this legal? With water: ah, the rum has something to tell us! Oranges, orange blossom water, honey, baklavas, sugar cane… It’s funny how the sweetness came out with water. Finish: very long, this time with oranges, smoke, tar, lapsang souchong and liquorice. In other words, Caroni. Saltier aftertaste. Comments: it is a little mindboggling, this baby lost me at times. I’d call him, err, it ‘a reckless wrestler’! SGP:563 - 87 points.

And one last rum, and not just any rum… And after a loooooong break…

Fine Jamaican Rum (70° proof, Berry Bros & Rudd, 1940s)

Fine Jamaican Rum (70° proof, Berry Bros & Rudd, 1940s) Five stars Mind you, this is most probably pre-WWII rum, maybe it was even distilled in the beginning of last century. Imagine, submarines, cargos, U-boats, V2s… This baby survived quite a few adventures! Having said that, it could be hit or miss, according to my feeble experience, let’s see… Colour: dark amber. Nose: Jamaica! I mean, this oldie really smells like perfect contemporary Jamaican rum, with all these petroly, oily, tarry and earthy notes. An ode to dunder! There’s also a lot of smoke – maybe more smoke than in old Islays of similar ages and vintages – and stunning mineral notes. Wet rocks, a stroll in a long forgotten cave, clay… And then the expected black olives and tobacco. This baby’s vibrancy after all these years is just unimaginable. Mouth: I just need to bow before this glorious old spirit. It’s full of mysteries, stories, romances and… minerals. Tar pitch grease petrol olives capers salt brine oysters charcoal cigars liquorice smoked tea (that’ll do, S.!) And mouth feel and body are just perfect. Finish: long, tarry, thundering and thunderous. And there’s even a wee touch of chocolate in the aftertaste. And dried pears and chestnuts. Comments: to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. How wrong I was! It’s not even the complexity that’s striking, and it’s not even very complex in the first place, it’s the fullness and the coherence. Plus, it goes down vey well ;-). SGP:662 - 95 points.

(Thank you, Dornoch Castle!)

More tasting notes Check the index of all rums I've tasted so far







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