Guadeloupe Vieux (40%, Rum Nation, Guadeloupe, 2016)

This is a bottle I found in my collection and I really can’t remember why I bought it. I do remember tasting some Guadeloupe Rums that were truly wonderful, but these were all bottled at cask strength, like this Gardel and this Bellevue. So why did this 40% ABV version came floating to the surface of my stash? OK, no problem for sure, since, as I said, I still have to stumble upon a bad or even a mediocre Rhum from Guadeloupe. No complaints with Rum Nation so far. I like these “new” dumpy Rum Nation bottles, sometimes called entry-level when in fact it is a little bit more than that. Even the label looks excellent, with its beautiful color combinations of black, medium brown, ivory and gold. I raise these questions of doubt, because of the back-label. This label has statements like: “designed with a lighter aroma in mind” and “an introduction to the world of French-style Rhums”. 40% ABV. Well, excuse me prrrrincess, but by now I don’t need an introduction, not even a refresher course, and I’m not your guy for very light Rums (sometimes boring, yet sometimes the beauty lies in the details). Nevertheless, it is here, and this nice looking bottle will be “plopped” just the same.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh, fresh air, floral and slightly alcoholic. Quite perfumy. Warm light wax and Sinaspril (artificial orange flavoured headache pill for children). Dusty with soft wood and cinnamon. Hints of crushed beetle (acidic). Soft overall. Sweetish toffee and runny caramel. Its almost closer to a Single Malt Whisky than your typical Rhum Agricole. This might be interesting in a blind tasting, depending on the taste. Cookie dough and cinnamon again. Appetizing and light. Tiniest hint of gravy and more (virgin-like) oak. Good balance. Hints of sweet apricot and sweet super-ripe oranges in sweet yoghurt. Very light though and in this case it means you have to work at it a bit. Keep it moving around in your glass to get aroma’s out. Snorting it as if your life depends upon it. The more this stands the more fresh and floral it gets. More vanilla as well and a little bit of toasted oak. Given a lot of time this is a wonderful smelling Rhum. Just an hour more and I would be talking to you about several flowers. Jasmin for instance, but there are more. Just where is the Agricole? Quite nice and out of the ordinary (for an Agricole). A breakfast Rhum.

Taste: Sugar water. Red fruit lemonade, Cola without the sparkle and without the heaps of sugar. Nothing floral in the taste. Extremely simple and definitely lacking in the (Rhum) Agricole-department. Dusty and soft wood. Some wax again (the more it breathes the more waxy it gets) and sometimes a bitter woody note, mostly masked. Hardly a finish let alone an aftertaste, a little waxy again. Still warming. Some wood and something resembling licorice, but it might be me imagining this. And that more or less is it.

As a quick-fix quite underwhelming. This needs too much time to show itself. When given time, the nose gets very, very nice and balanced, Taste-wise this will never get there, it’s just too simple. Has it been drowned in water? As mentioned above, we were already warned by the label on the back of the bottle. This was designed (taking away from the art of making Rhum, or maybe this is actually the art of being able to design it) as a light Rhum. The label also claims that due to its lightness this is an introduction to French style Rhums. Since for me this is lacking most of the typical Agricole style, this is in no way an introduction to French style Rhums. yes, this may be an introduction to light style R(h)ums, but aren’t all light style R(h)ums an introduction to light style R(h)ums to begin with? For me this resembles Abuelo Añejo, so that might also work very well as an introduction to French style R(h)ums. Only, isn’t Abuelo a Spanish style Ron? Yes it is! Nope, this Guadeloupe Vieux is definitely not an introduction to French style Rhums just like the Abuelo isn’t. Nope. Not at all. Get it only when you’re a novice of mixologist, or get the Abuelo Añejo, which should be cheaper.

Points: 78

P.S. The only clue given by Rum Nation about the distillery responsible for this is that the distillery is that its 100 years old, and that the Blanc they bottled in 2015, comes from the same distillery. This still leaves us with several options like Poisson (of Père Labat fame) and Reimonenq (less known). Bellevue is almost 100, so for now I’ll leave it alone and won’t hazard a guess as to which one it is. (Sure I do, I assume (the mother of all fuckups) that its Poisson). If you have more info, please drop me a line…

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

Bellevue 15yo 1998/2014 (52.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 011, 169 bottles, Guadeloupe)

The market for good Rum is on the rise, especially in markets where Single Malt Whisky is king. In the last couple of years the run on good Whisky was bigger than life, depleting the stocks considerably. Today we face not a shortage as such, but a shortage in older matured Whiskies. In part because there isn’t any, in part because it is simply not bottled because one can fetch a better price later on down the road. Hence we see an ever-growing number of Whiskies without an age statement and with a funky little name. Nothing bad here, but putting two and two together, the Whiskies must be younger and younger to be able to keep the new bottlings coming for a hungry (read: thirsty) public.

Whisky people in general are not happy with the youth of their Whiskies, nor are they happy with the development of prices of their beloved aged Whiskies. Just look at Highland Park 18yo, Talisker 18yo and Laphroaig 18yo, producers simply don’t have the time anymore to wait that long and subsequently sell it for a not so super-premium price. It’s not all romance you know, it still is a business. Happy times for Whisky producers in warm climate countries such as Taiwan and India, where very good Whisky is made today in much less time than in Scotland and the other traditional Whisky countries.

In comes Rum. Whisky people are open to trying other distillates that are nice and/or aged, and/or affordable. One of those alternatives for Whisky is Rum. Guadeloupe Sainte Anne Grande-TerreThe old Rum community is enriched with Whisky people fishing in the pond of Rum and getting to know the product and a different kind of romanticism. Where Scotland is beautiful, but also cold and wet, Rum predominantly comes for the Caribbean and especially the image of paradise islands comes to mind. Older Rums are becoming scarce very quickly and just like Whisky, will become almost extinct, Prices are on the rise as well. Where have we seen this before?

Lots of independent bottlers of fine Single Malt Whisky are turning to Rum. Some did that many, many years ago, Like Cadenhead and Berry Brothers & Rudd, and some more recently like Wilson & Morgan (Rum Nation), Kintra and David Stirks outfit Exclusive Malts, but there are many more. Today we’ll have a look at another one. Isla del Ron is the Rum brand of Thomas Ewers’ outfit, Malts of Scotland.

Thomas EwersThomas bottled a Rum from Guadeloupe from a distillery nobody has heard of, South Pacific (as stated on the label), not to be confused with the South Pacific distillery of Fiji, which is entirely different place altogether. Thomas explained to me he was offered a cask of South Pacific, which turned out to be Bellevue instead, so in this case the label is wrong. Casks like this are sold to bottlers through brokers, so it’s not a surprise there are a lot more Bellevue casks from 1998 bottled by different parties. And with brokers there lies a problem. Brokers only want to sell on casks, not really caring informing the buying party what really is in the cask if they have the information at all.

Thomas believes this to be from the Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante Island, but looking at information of many other “Bellevue’s” from 1998, it can also be Damoiseau’s Bellevue Distillery (Le Moule, Grande-Terre), which would be even more probable, since it is a larger producer. So we’re not sure about the exact distillery, nor can we be about the ingredients. It can be either distilled from molasses or from sugar cane juice. It can even be a blend of both, since some distilleries produce both. Sugar cane when it is harvested, and molasses the rest of the year. Questions, questions.

Isla del Ron GuadeloupeColor: Orange brown.

Nose: Big aroma, lots of different spices. It’s like a spice mix from Indian Whisky. Vanilla, chewy. Dry, spicy and fatty but not sweet. Hint of sweet peppermint. Butter and coffee with milk. Mocha and hot butter as well. Cinnamon, cocoa powder, leather and hints of soft wood. Damp earth and after that rather dusty. Hints of licorice mixed with a nice dry and clean woody note and slightly burned sugar, molten plastic (don’t worry) and creamy banana. Very well-balanced and a nose of great complexity. Especially when the heavier elements are snorted out of the glass, the fun starts. Wow!

Taste: Starts out with a short, sweet and aromatic burst, but quickly becomes dry and very aromatic, with again the Indian spice-mix so predominant in the nose. Nutmeg and lavas, but there is a whole lot more. When it goes down the hatch it becomes even drier. The lighter elements start to evaporate in my mouth and engulfs it with lots of beautiful aroma’s. Milk chocolate, dry leather and a slight bitter edge of wood. Hints of licorice, tar and charred oak. Hot chocolate. After getting used to the spicy dryness, it becomes creamy hot chocolate style. Lovely development as well, especially since the aftertaste is stronger than the finish. Wow, what an amazing Rum!

I like the bottle used for Isla del Ron, it’s the same bottle used for Pusser’s 15yo, HSE from Martinique and last but not least, for Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte. I only have a beef with the label, its dark, dull and depressing. Rum comes from places where life is colorful. I hope Thomas will continue to bottle a lot more Rum’s, but I hope he’ll spice up the looks a bit!

In the end, after I tasted this in the shop, I needed a whole 10 seconds to snatch one up. This stuff makes me happy!

Points: 88

Thanks go out to Rik for the sample.