Clément 10yo 2003/2013 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.8%, Bourbon Cask #0310054, Vanille Intense, 459 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Alas, my 100% Canne Bleue version of a single cask Clément is almost gone. Damn small those 50cl bottles. I said I liked the smaller size of these bottles, because it would give us the chance to buy a bottle from another cask. True, but when they are as good as the first one, less definitely is not more. So what should I replace it with? Well, what about another version from Cléments single cask series. Yup, let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea. In comes the second version released: “Vanille Intense”. I don’t know about you, but somehow I’m expecting a R(h)um that is full of, well, vanilla notes. Where the previous one was all about the Canne Blue sugar cane variety, this time it’s all about the wood, or at least so I imagine. Sure R(h)um by itself can have enough notes of Vanilla, but here, I guess, it’s also the vanillin that came into the mix by way of the wood of the cask. It’s from a Bourbon cask, so American oak, which gives off vanilla notes to enhance the vanilla notes from the R(h)um. Expect intense vanilla notes.

By the way, a third version has been released recently, called “Moka Intense”. Interesting, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, and have a go at this “Vanille Intense” first, shall we?

clement-vanille-intenseColor: Copper golden brown.

Nose: Cookie dough. Luke-warm sweetened black tea. Vanilla. Only after this creamy start, the typical Rhum Agricole notes emerge, although throughout the whole experience, they are pushed back well into the background. So we are definitely in the territory of some active Bourbon casks here. Floral, honey and licorice. Nice (Indian) spicy wood, plywood and pencil shavings, although I don’t think they have used the latter two for this Rhum. Well integrated, a faint, but nice and sweet red fruit aroma. Leather and quite dusty. Next comes the sweetness, brown sugar and slightly warm toffee. This one really gives it up in layers. Is the vanilla intense? Well, not as much as the label suggested, but it is definitely a smoother and sweeter smelling Rhum, compared to its 100% Canne Bleue sister. It’s not the vanilla ice-cream I somehow expected. For me, especially the elegant woody notes are the best. Quite a nice nose, almost not a Rhum Agricole, but I like it!

Taste: Very soft, dull, dusty and sugary sweet. Simple. Warm sugar syrup with pencil shavings, cardboard and indian spices. Toasted cask. Lots of diluted toffee, watery caramel, licorice and vanilla. Spicy backbone from the oak, even a slight bitter vegetal note, with a late return of sugar. You can really taste the pencil shavings now. Remarkably soft and simple compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version. So it’s not about the vanilla after all. They just picked smooth, creamy, sweet and simple casks to avoid the potential rawness of the previous version I guess. Short finish as well, where the woody bitterness has the longest staying power. A bit disappointing really. Where the J.M 2002 and the Clément 100% Canne Bleue had something extra, this Vanille Intense does not. I think the Rum Nation Martinique Hors d’Âge is just as good and way more affordable.

Compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version, this one is less raw. More civilized and simple. Also toned down a bit. The 100% Canne Bleue seems to explode with aroma. Dare I say that the Vanille Intense is a bit boring? I just did, didn’t I? I don’t know if the lower ABV has something to do with it, or maybe it is just the profile of this Rhum. Also remember these are single cask bottlings and there should be a difference from cask to cask. Going on these two I will probably buy another bottle, bottled from a different cask, of the 100% Canne Bleue version (Brown label) and pass up on another Vanille Intense (Green label). Don’t get me wrong, the green ‘un is still good, but not as good as the brown ‘un…

Points: 85

Rum Nation Martinique AOC Hors d’Âge (43%, Single Domaine Rum, EMB 97209J, 2008, Martinique)

And here is Rum number three of Fabio Rossi’s Rum Nation Single Domain series. Earlier I reviewed the Panama 18yo and the Barbados 10yo from this series, both very likeable, enjoyable and very affordable. Third time lucky and this third one is a Martinique Hors d’Âge and an official AOC. Don’t be fooled, this is not a Wine, but a Rhum Agricole, made from Cane Juice. Rum’s like this are different from other types of Rum, made from molasses. So don’t go out buying the aforementioned Panama 18yo and this one, expecting two similar Rums, because they aren’t.

First of all I would like to mention, and I may have done that (several times) already, that Rhum Agricole is an acquired taste, especially for those who started out with sweet, molasses based Rum’s. It may take you a while to like something like this. I can’t stress this enough. Although I came from Whisky, which is something different entirely, I also needed some time to “get it”. I assure you, it will be worth your while, because after a while you also might “get it” or find out it never was meant for you in the first place., which is possible too. In that case I apologize. For the first group who “gets it”, what did I tell you? Isn’t it great!

The version I’ll be reviewing has a code EMB 97209J on it, and was released in 2008, there exists an earlier batch coded: EMB 97230, which was released in 2006. To complicate things a bit, It seems that parts of the EMB 97209J batch were also released in 2010 and 2011. Finally a new version, bottled in the dumpy bottle, was released in 2013. I don’t have confirmation yet, but I understand this Rhum Agricole was distilled by Habitation Saint Etienne (HSE), but I also don’t know if all batches were distilled by HSE, if distilled by them at all. I’ll let you know when I find out.

Rum Nation Martinique AOC Hors d'Âge (43%, Single Domaine Rum, EMB 97209J, 2008, Martinique)Color: Copper brown.

Nose: Nice Agriciole nose. Grassy, some orange skins, and a promise of a full body with maybe some more sweetness than usual from an Agricole. Dusty, drying and full of nice spices. Half warm, fresh black tea with sugar in it. Maybe not very complex, but very nice smelling. Hints of a grass and hay note I know from Grappa. Licorice and a wee bit of tar, but also a slight hint of burnt sugar, a very Caribbean smell. Add to that the smell of an unpainted hot metal roof. Hints of dry oak, like smelling the outside of the cask.

Taste: Light on entry, but with a nice half-sweet attack. It shows sweetness and dryness in quick succession. Again a hint of orange skins combined with dried out leather. Fresh, untreated almonds.  The luke-warm black tea shows itself in the taste too. Gelatine and a small hint of floral soap towards the finish. The finish is of medium length and not much stays around for long in the aftertaste. The hot metal roof is the last note standing, essentially.

I did an extensive H2H2H with this Rum Nation Martinique, which is between 5 and 8 years of age, the J.M Vintage 2002 (11yo) and the 100% Canne Bleue Clément Single Cask (9yo) I reviewed earlier. First of all, these three are not similar, but do resemble each other. The Rum Nation offering is definitely younger, than both others. A clean Agricole taste, not very complex, but very nice and highly drinkable. The Clément has an amazing colour after only 9 years in a Bourbon cask. Uncanny. It must have come from a very active cask. It is a Rum of broad strokes and primary colours. A bit raw, and everything that lies on top, overpowers any subtleties that lie underneath. The J.M is a bit like this Rum Nation with an added dimension. Here Bourbon maturation, did what you would expect. The American oak added sappy wood and vanilla to the mix, as well as a creamy and sweet-corn distillate note. You might say that the J.M is easily the best of the three, but keep in mind that the Rum Nation Martinique costs about half of both others, and keep in mind as well, that the Clément comes in a half litre bottle only. Rum Nation again shows its incapability of bottling a dud, and if you get the chance to talk to Fabio and he starts to talk about his entry-level Rums, just slap him over the head. He doesn’t bottle entry-level Rums, he only bottles Rums at entry-level prices. So if you get the chance to buy one…what are you waiting for?

Points: 85

Gardel 1992/2003 (42%, Fassbind, The Secret Treasures, Barrels #4, #8 & #121, 1401 bottles, Guadeloupe)

We are going to visit Guadeloupe again! This time I have more room for some geography, since the previous review was already a bit long as it is. Guadeloupe lies in the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Guadeloupe is not one island. What usually is considered to be the main island is in fact two islands with a narrow strait in between. Grande-Terre in the east and Basse-Terre in the west. To the south lies Marie Galante. There are more islands to Guadeloupe, but those don’t have Rum distilleries on them. From Guadeloupe comes this Rum I’m about to review. What else could it be? The Rum was made by Gardel, which was founded in 1870 by “General Sucriere”. After working for almost 130 years the distillery is now closed, but the Gardel sugar company still exists. The sugar factory is the sole remaining sugar factory on Grande-Terre, and still one of the largest in the world. Depending on the harvest, it crushes around 500.000 tonnes of sugar cane, produces 50.000 tonnes of sugar and 25.000 tonnes of molasses per annum.

GuadeloupeThis Rum is from 1992, the same year the column still was supposedly exchanged for a pot still. As far as I know, Gardel never bottled Rums themselves, but Gardel was bottled by numerous independent bottlers, although I don’t think a lot of Gardel is still around, so If you like Rhum Agricole and if you like Gardel, be quick. This particular Gardel was bottled by Swiss distiller and spirit importer Fassbind. We already know them from the Linkwood I reviewed earlier. I have seen quite some Rums from them, but most of them have been bottled in 2003. The most recent bottling of Whisky was from 2007, so I don’t believe they are active anymore, although The Secret Treasures bottlings are still not extremely difficult to find. Just like Plantation and many bottlings of Rum Nation, this series was never really expensive, so lets see if this is a hidden gem.

Secret Treasures Guadeloupe 1992Color: Copper brown.

Nose: Very nice and aromatic. I love how this smells. Big, and very fruity. Banana and wax. Lots of heavy esters. Black tea. Leafy and green. Easily recognizable as a sugar cane distillate. Hints of burnt wood and burnt caramel. Sweet tea, flint and gunpowder. Fireworks. New wood, and overripe fruit. Papaya and passion fruit. Creamy vanilla pudding. Very appetizing and very complex. There is a lot happening here. Biscuits and to a lesser extent, fresh cookie dough. Sugared orange skins. Well balanced with lots of complexity.

Taste: Starts with diluted (ear) wax, but is less bitter than that. The bitterness is more of the sappy wood kind. Don’t be worried, the bitterness is quite faint. Some toffee and vanilla, but the Rum still is dry. I guess, If you don’t know the stuff you might not like it at first. Funky toffee, with an acidic touch, intertwined with banana. Warming. Much drier than the nose suggested. Thinner yet chewy. You always get something exciting from a sugar cane distillate. Different and special, although simpler than the nose. Hints of plastic in the finish. Maybe this should have been bottled at a higher ABV? We’ll never know.

Sure it has its faults. The taste is not all that well-integrated. You get several layers of aroma’s and not every layer fits on top of the other nor does it pass on the baton that well either. It even has notes of plastic in the finish, and the finish itself isn’t one of great length. You hardly can say it has a noticeable aftertaste. So this is not so good then? Nope, au contraire, I would say. The nose is really very special. Sure, it lacks a bit in the taste department, but it is also a distillate that puts a spell on you. Hard to put my finger on it, but it is mesmerizing and wonderful. I guess when on Guadeloupe it would be next to impossible to leave this stuff alone. This is particularly a very typical example of a cane juice distillate and definitely is not for everybody. I urge you to develop your palate, because when you get it, this is secretly wonderful (yet faulty).

Rum is a very diverse product. Most of us know Rum to be a molasses based sweet distillate, and like it. After a while you might encounter a Rhum Agricole, which can be quite a challenge. I often hear of people disliking Rhum Agricole at first, but warming up to it a while later (probably a few years, actually). Not an easy distillate, but when you get into it, you might be hooked for good. Rhum Agriciole or maybe I should say, Rum made from sugar cane juice in general, is something different.

Points: 85

Clément 9yo 2002/2012 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (46.8%, Bourbon Cask #20070077, 100% Canne Bleue, 587 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

After the excellent offerings from J.M it would be a blasphemy not to recognize Homère Clément, the godfather of Rhum Agricole on Martinique. In 1917 Homère started his distillery on the domaine he acquired in 1887. With the death 0f Homère in 1923, the property with its distillery is taken over by Charles Clément. Charles started making Rhum under the Clément Brand in 1940. The Cléments were already making Rhum for about ten years but under the brand name of the domaine itself: Rhum du Domaine d’Acajou. Charles died in 1973 and the next generation Clément is taking over. It is the generation of George and Jean-Louis-José Clément who saved J.M from bankruptcy but don’t interfere with its Rhum making and management. Investing in the property and distillery, to allow the people behind J.M to make the best Rhum possible.

From Clément’s prestige range comes this single barrel. This “100% Canne Bleue”, non filtré is the first of two single barrel releases. Canne bleue is a cane variety that, apart for its blue color, is known to be the best sugar cane variety for producing Rhum Agricole. Not so long ago a second version in this series saw the light of day, called “Vanille Intense”. Not to be mistaken for a spiced Rhum. No vanilla and/or vanillin was added. Only casks were selected that had the natural potential of releasing slightly more than usual amounts of vanillin from the American oak, as opposed to European oak, which tends to release more tannins.

Clément 9yo 2002/2012 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (46.8%, OB, Bourbon Cask #20070077, 100% Canne Bleue, 587 bottles, Martinique)Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Fresh and smells of new wood. Also a leafy, plant-like quality. Caramel. Big, hefty aroma, sometimes a whiff of this reminds me of Jamaican high ester Rum, although the whole profile is quite different from that. In the distance even a red fruity aroma. Mostly berries. Burnt sugar with hints of spicy White Wine. Gewürztraminer. Sweet spices. Oregano and to a lesser extent thyme. Toned down vanilla ice-cream.

Taste: A very nice subdued sweetness. It’s like the sweetness has depth in part because its burnt sugar. Milk chocolate, some vanilla and a hint of a paper-like quality, cardboard, cola and lots of cask toast. Just like a great wine, this Rhum Agricole has perfect balance between the sweetness and acidity. The sweet is obvious, the acidity is from the oak. Just like the nose it has this great woody flavour, without it being too sappy or bitter, although the bitterness that is there stays on well into the finish, and even the hoppy aftertaste. The finish is long and has a tiny amount of soapiness to it as well as a bit of red berries and the burnt sugar. The burnt sugar retreats and lets a more creamy and toffeed layer take over for the aftertaste.

It’s really amazing how much color this Rhum Agricole got from only nine years in a Bourbon barrel. It looks like a stunning dark brown Rhum. That must have been very active casks. This is good stuff. Big aroma, big body, long finish. For some a bit too much of the burnt wood and sugar notes, but it comes with the territory. Good ‘un this is. Usually more is more, but I somehow do like the 50 cl size of this. It’s easier that way to get another “100% Canne Bleue” single cask, from a different cask naturally, for comparison. This is a big one. The J.M 2002 shouldn’t be tasted right after this.

Points: 87

J.M 11yo 2002/2014 Vieux Rhum Agricole “Millésime 2002” (46.3%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)

Reviewing the dirt cheap La Mauny “1749” already opened my eyes to Rhum Agricole from Martinique, but especially after reviewing the J.M XO, I started to really like the stuff. Followed quickly by the La Mauny XO. There is a difference in ABV though, the La Mauny is bottled at 40% ABV, and suffers from it, the J.M XO is bottled at 45% ABV, which seems to be a much better strength. Apart from the difference in ABV, I somehow clicked more with the taste of the J.M. Soon after, I went out and bought this 11yo J.M Millésime 2002. (Two of them actually, since I had high hopes for this one, and I got a pretty good deal on them as well). Aged in Jim Beam Bourbon casks, just like the XO, but almost twice the age. Having already tried the 2002, this time it’s not about comparing it to the XO, because both earn a place in any drinking collection. You know, a collection of bottles destined to be drunk, bottles that will be actually opened to be enjoyed. The XO is younger, has less depth but is also a high quality Rhum Agricole. Having said all that, I have to warn some people. A lot of (sweet) Rum drinkers are a bit put off when starting with Rhum Agricole. Its different. Just like heavily peated Whiskies differ from Bourbons and so on. Proceed with caution, acquire the taste, and if you put some effort into it, you’ll be rewarded with some great Rhums (If you choose wisely).

J.M 11yo Vieux Rhum Agricole Millésime 2002 (46.3%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh, half sweet and industrial. Wax. Red fruit sweetness and acidity. Cherries, dust and toffee. Soft wood and old leather. With some air more fresh leather combined with a little bit of clear glue. Ground roasted coffee that has been around for a while. Pecan nuts with a hint of cola, brown sugar and cane juice. Hints of menthol which leaves a long minty feel in your nose and throat (already after smelling, I haven’t tasted it yet). Hints of good oak aged Calvados.

Taste: Brown sugar and slightly burnt sugar and maybe even some cask toast. Starts with a small amount of sugary sweetness, but it quickly becomes more dry. Warm apple juice and Calvados (de Querville, the older ones). Leather and more notes of apple. Hints of licorice towards the end. Although this wasn’t reduced, the ABV is natural cask strength, this doesn’t have a very long finish. Medium finish which concentrates around the burnt sugar note combined with some bitter wood. Although the Rhum as a whole is very good, the finish lets it down a bit.

Wonderful Rhum with lots of complexity which releases layer upon layer. It great, but even better if you are patient with it, since it develops a lot in the glass. Great balance too. I have to say that the way I perceive the bitterness of the finish, has also a lot to do with me and the moment when I drink it. It’s more a digestif than an aperitif. The bitterness is less obvious in the evening, than it is in the morning, so don’t let this put you off, since the bitterness is in no way overpowering.

Points: 87

La Mauny XO Vieux Rhum Agricole (40%, Martinique)

After the J.M XO Rhum Agricole, why not compare it with another XO Rhum Agricole from the same island. This time an offering from La Mauny of which I already reviewed the entry-level 1749. This XO is just like the J.M 6 years old (and probably older), but has a lower ABV. This one is 40%.

La Mauny XOColor: Dark orange gold.

Nose: Woody and spicy. Higher in esters than the J.M. This one is fatter and thicker and has some traits of Jamaican high ester Rum. Aromatic with sweet spices. Again a (dry) wood driven Rhum Agricole. Fruits in this one are of the tangerine kind, mixed with some creamy vanilla. Plain sugar with a hint of gravy. Quite some cloves and tiny hints of fireplace, coal and tar. Licorice and cloves, that’s it! Absolutely wonderful nose. Just like the J.M, this has a note of floral soap, just not roses this time. Mocha and milk chocolate. Give it some time and it grows on you. It is shy to let its aroma’s go. This has been reduced too much and should have been higher in ABV. At La Mauny they must think that if they rise the ABV, people get scared and will stop buying their product?

Taste: Sweet black tea. Syrupy. Red fruits like raspberry. Very soft. Nice wood, but its presence is very faint. Much less wood in the taste than in the nose or as in the J.M. Quite fruity with nice wood (pencil shavings), but a wee bit too smooth and light at 40% ABV. Amber sweetness with sugared and dry roasted almonds.

Just try the J.M and you’ll know this is reduced too much. A shame, because you can taste and especially smell the quality in this one. Again a very easily drinkable XO Rhum Agricole though. Both have nice and complex noses. The taste is a bit less complex, but still very drinkable. This La Mauny is somewhat sweeter. If I was forced to pick only one I’d go for the J.M. Nevertheless, both are nice, and both show that there is a lot more to be gained from Rhum Agricole.

Points: 84

J.M XO Très Vieux Rhum Agricole (45%, Bourbon Cask Matured, Martinique)

Today I was working in the garden. Preparations have to be made for the coming summer. Getting rid of weed, clean the BBQ, plant some new flowers and so on. Evenings are still cold, so now I’m sitting inside and I notice my arms are quite red. Must be a hole in the ozone layer or something, because I can’t remember getting sunburned so quickly. Another place on earth I would get easily sunburned is not Scotland, but Martinique. Yes it’s Rhum Agricole time! Rhum Agricole is the French word for Cane Juice Rum, as opposed to Rum made from molasses. Tonight we’ll be having J.M XO. Looks cryptic doesn’t it? The XO (as for Extra Old, or Très Vieux in french) is a Rhum Agricole, which has been aged for a minimum of 6 years in re-charred Bourbon barrels.

J.M XOColor: Full orange gold.

Nose: Woody, spicy and floral. Right up is un-ripe banana. Very aromatic and dry. Lots of spices. Hints of gingerbread and cookie dough. Old soap (roses) and polished furniture. The nose is wood driven, but it is never overpowered by wood. Also the charred oak is noticeable, but again, not overpowering. Notes of an old wooden shop or a church. Even hints of incense is there.

Taste: More of the same. Wood at first, with a bit of mint, but that dissipates quickly. A short sweetish film, that also passes by quickly, leaving a nice and fruity aftertaste. Hints of tree sap, mocha, coffee with milk and milk chocolate. Tiny hint of an Industrial complex and motor oil (which is nice). Next an even tinier note of passion fruit and even less still: anise. Tasty. This is not a sweet Rum, it is rather dry and well made. The only beef I can have with this Rhum is that even for an XO it is quite light and seems to lack a bit of depth or complexity if you prefer. Dangerously drinkable.

I have to admit, since the day of Douglas Laing’s Old and Rare series (Platinum) I am a sucker for dumpy bottles made with green glass. The rest of the labels and packaging are also very appealing. Having said that, of course that is not as important as the Rhum inside the bottle. I like sugar cane Rum. With its relative dryness, it matches with Single Malt Whisky. Nothing wrong with sweet Rum obviously, but the dry style is a welcoming addition to the drink. This dryer style, can showcase its finesse and elegance some more.

Points: 85