Review: Rums of Rhum Clement – Canne Bleue, Select Barrel, 6 Years Old, 10 Years Old, and Coconut Liqueur (2016)

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Rhum Clement is perhaps Martinique’s most distinguished producer of sugarcane-based rhum agricole, but it’s been 8 years since we’ve checked in with the distillery in earnest. After some rebranding and shuffling of products, the lineup still looks fairly familiar. While we didn’t get to check out Clement’s very top-end rums this time, this roundup comprises a fairly comprehensive look at the company’s most widely available products.

Thoughts follow on the four rums and one rum-based liqueur tasted.

Rhum Clement Canne Bleue – White rhum agricole made from a single varietal of sugarcane. Intense on the nose with petrol and rubber notes, you could be forgiven for assuming this is cachaca. Overripe fruit and a range of vegetal notes fill the palate, leading to a hot, almost overwhelming finish. This one actually says it’s “intense” on the front label, in all caps and italics, so I guess I have no one to blame here but myself. 100 proof. C / $30

Rhum Clement Rhum Vieux Agricole Select Barrel – This is three year old rum aged in French oak, denoted as such on the back label. Lot of heavy vegetal notes remain on the body here, as yet untamed by the rum’s time in wood. Vague aromas of coffee give way to heavy mushroom and green vegetable notes, the funkier notes lingering on the body before an interesting apple character arises on the finish. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it works as a worthwhile mixer. 80 proof. B / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 6 Years Old – Notes of coffee, tobacco, and baking spice on the nose give this rum the impression of significant age from the get-go. On the tongue, silky brown sugar leads to winey notes, complemented by a touch of smoke. The finish showcases the rum’s more savory side, hinting at both well-tanned leather, charcoal notes, and coconut husks. Balanced, without overblown sugars, it’s an excellent rum that’s still at the beginning of its life. 88 proof. A- / $55

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 10 Years Old – Bolder coffee notes on the nose here than in the 6 year old, but otherwise the aroma is a close cousin to its progenitor. On the palate, there’s quite a bit less sweetness here than on the 6 year, that brown sugar note taking a back seat to a stronger brandy and oxidized wine character, complemented by notes of roasted nuts, more coffee, and Spanish sherry. More brooding and more intense, it’s a provocative rum that showcases austerity over sweetness, making for a more intriguing sipper. 88 proof. A- / $70

Rhum Clement Mahina Coco Coconut Liqueur – Made from white rhum and chunks of macerated coconut. Slightly tropical, with clear and powerful coconut notes, it’s a richer and more engaging version of Malibu, with notes of banana and, especially, pineapple emerging on the finish. Keep this on hand for upscale pina coladas. 36 proof. A- / $24

rhumclementusa.com

Review: Bloomery SweetShine Liqueurs

bloomery sweetshineWest Virginia-based Bloomery takes a unique, yet wholly appropriate, approach to creating its 10 liqueurs: Rather than using a grain neutral spirit for its base, Bloomery uses moonshine — at least that’s how the story goes.

Starting with 190 proof ‘shine, cane sugar, and local water, Bloomery’s SweetShine concoctions are flavored with local fruits, roots, and nuts.

We tried three of the company’s creations. Thoughts follow.

Note: All come in 375ml bottles. Be sure to shake well, as the translucent bottles make it hard to see the solids resting on the bottom.

Bloomery SweetShine Ginger – A bit sweaty on the nose, with overtones of overripe apple and some corny/vegetal notes that don’t exactly scream ginger. The body is sweet at first, then heavy with racy ginger oil notes, peppery and spicy but dragged down by its oily heaviness and a finish of buttered popcorn. 49 proof. B-

Bloomery SweetShine Pumpkin Spice – Again those buttered popcorn notes wash over the nose and palate, this time influenced by cinnamon and cloves. More brown sugar notes come to the fore, which are a better companion for popcorn than the ginger liqueur, offering a touch of brewed coffee character and caramel on the finish.38.4 proof. B

Bloomery SweetShine Black Walnut – This spin on a nocino starts off with big coffee and Madeira notes, with a smattering of nuts — finally something that can drown out the moonshine base. On the palate, it’s got authentic black walnut liqueur flavors — coffee-like but rounded out with earthy nuttiness. The finish is incredibly sweet and seemingly endless, enduring on the tongue for the better part of an hour. Reasonably approachable (though lacking any real bitterness), but best in moderation. 70.1 proof. B

each $25 (375ml) / bloomerysweetshine.com

Review: Cynar 70 Liqueur

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Cynar’s a highly-regarded classic of the amaro world. So why produce a new version of this vibrantly bitter, artichoke-infused concoction? Because they can.

Cynar 70 is designed to put the liqueur into a category alongside Jagermeister and Fernet, both bitter aperitifs but bottled at a much higher proof than Cynar or Campari, which have the same bitter approach but hit 33 and 48 proof, respectively.

We’re reviewed the 33-proof Cynar twice (here and here), and today we look at Cynar 70 in true head to head fashion, comparing it side by side against its big brother. Note: The old Cynar isn’t going away, this is just a line extension. The two 13-ingredient recipes are the same; only the alcohol level is different.

It’s amazing what a different amount of alcohol can make to a spirit. Classic Cynar is immediately bitter, with overtones of chocolate, oranges, leather, and tobacco on the nose and palate. Cynar 70, on the other hand, is restrained on the nose — dark chocolate notes hit first, lightly sweet, and not particularly bitter. That classic cinnamon note is even more evident here than in the original Cynar, making it even more engaging right at the start.

The palate of Cynar 70 continues to diverge from its forebear. The attack is not particularly bitter — a striking contradiction to the original. Here, it’s lightly sweet at first — simple sugar, some molasses, a touch of raisin character — and then it builds from there. First more herbs arrive — cinnamon and anise, along with sweeter chocolate and fresh oranges — and then that long-awaited bitterness hits at last. It has a softer entry than the slam-bang punch of classic Cynar, slowly washing over you with its herbal-orange character rather than immediately dominating the experience. That said, it does eventually hit the same bitter high as the original Cynar, gripping onto the tongue and refusing to release, proving itself as a classic and enduring amaro.

The body of Cynar 70 is much creamier, the color considerably darker. Turns out this isn’t a New Coke situation: Cynar 70 takes everything that is great about Cynar and builds upon it while showing off a few new tricks. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out I actually preferred the sweet-then-bitter structure of Cynar 70 to the original in side by side tasting. Definitely worthwhile.

70 proof.

A / $37 (1 liter) / camparigroup.com

Review: Jackson Morgan Southern Cream Salted Caramel

jackson morgan Salted Caramel BottleCream liqueurs are on the rise — and here’s a new one that’s made from Tennessee whiskey… in Kentucky! No, irony isn’t one of the six flavors available — which include Whipped Orange Cream and Bread Pudding(!) — but we did get a taste of the Salted Caramel expression of Jackson Morgan (named after the two brothers who founded the company).

Let’s pour a glass from this mini jug decanter and see how it fares.

The nose doesn’t immediately come across as all that different from an Irish cream, flecked perhaps with a touch of butterscotch. The body brings out the caramel, though it’s not particularly salted in any discernible way. I get more of a bittersweet chocolate note as the liqueur builds, but the pure, quite-sweet caramel endures for the long haul. The sugar is, thankfully and surprisingly, kept in check, and while the finish is a touch rough — lingering on the roof of the mouth for quite a while — it’s surprisingly drinkable and a fun change of pace in this category.

30 proof.

A- / $20 / sipjacksonmorgan.com

Review: Peychaud’s Aperitivo

PeychaudsAperitivoPeychaud’s is one of the most classic bitters brands — and lately owner Sazerac (Buffalo Trace’s parent company) has been pushing the brand even further. First came a barrel-aged version of Peychaud’s Bitters. Now comes a whole new category of product: Paychaud’s Aperitivo.

If you’re familiar with Aperol or Campari, you understand the basics of the aperitivo category: bittersweet, emphasis on bitter, bright red in color, and quite low in proof. (At 11% alcohol, Peychaud’s is comparable to both of the aforementioned liqueurs.)

But Peychaud’s doesn’t hail from Italy, the home of the aperitivo. It hails from New Orleans. What is Sazerac doing with this category to set it aside from the Italianos? Let’s give it a taste.

Peychaud’s color is roughly in line with Aperol, maybe just a shade lighter. On the nose: immediate bitter orange, a touch of cherry, and hints of caramel. Aperol fans may find an initial familiarity here: Peychaud’s is so sweet and orange-focused you might initially confuse it for a type of triple sec. Juicy with mandarine notes, the initial attack folds in some marshmallow to sweeten it up.

It takes a few seconds for the bitter elements to come to the fore, but they’re quite restrained even as the finish arrives. Here, it really just flicks at the back of the throat with a quinine character, one that lingers for a bit as a sultry companion to that initial sweetness. It’s a vague sort of bitterness — one that doesn’t really resemble Peychaud’s Bitters in its classic format in anything other than color.

I tried making a Spritz with Aperol, Luxardo Aperitivo, and Peychaud’s Aperitivo, and Peychaud’s took a solid third place — it just didn’t have enough bitterness to hold its own in the drink. (By the way: This time out, I found the Aperol version to be my favorite.)

22 proof.

B+ / $20 / sazerac.com

Review: Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur

Few Anguish and RegretAnguish & Regret — what a name! — is a spin on a liqueur known as malört. Malört? It’s a liqueur introduced in the 1930s in Chicago by a Swedish immigrant who was obviously pining for his aquavit in some fashion. The name malört is Swedish for wormwood.

Today, Chicagoans still love malört, and a small cottage industry has grown up around it. Few Spirits is part of that, and while it can’t call Anguish & Regret “malört” due to legal issues, the idea is the same: A full-proof grain-originated liqueur that is floral, bittersweet, and unlike anything you’ve likely ever experienced if you don’t live in Chi-town. (The company describes it as “something like Chartreuse but without any sugar,” and that’s not wrong.)

Anguish & Regret, specifically, is an “infusion of a house-made ras al hanout Moroccan spice blend” with no sugar added — ras al hanout being akin to Moroccan curry powder. So, in a sense, curry liqueur.

Now relax a bit: Anguish & Regret does not actually taste like curry. It is, however, quite complex. The nose is sharp and pungent, highly perfumed but not particularly flowery — more grassy, with odd evergreen notes, plus bitter roots and a touch of dried cherry. The nose is closer to a contemporary gin than anything else — or maybe like walking into a Turkish rug shop.

The palate is something else entirely, with a lightly bitter, amaro-like punch up front. This quickly fades, however, revealing more of those herbal notes, which again are pungent and powerful. Here that grassy, evergreen character evolves complicated notes of cardamom, mushroom, Madeira wine, harissa, vanilla bean, and almond extract. It may be unsweetened, but some mild honey notes do come along to smooth out the finish.

All told, this is one of those spirits that gets more complicated as you dive deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. It’s not for every taste, but I found myself enjoying it as a strange spin on amaro, far more than I expected.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / fewspirits.com

Review: Sipsmith V.J.O.P. Gin and Sloe Gin

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Sipsmith isn’t content to just make a single gin in its garage of an operation in London, England. It actually produces a range of artisan spirits and fortified wines — including the two reviewed below, which are exported to the U.S.

Sipsmith co-founder Sam Galsworthy (pictured) was recently in my neck of the woods, and we sat down with the Sipsmith portfolio for tasting and exploration. (After the meeting he sent me home with the two below bottles, which I reviewed later on my own.)

sipsmith (1)The highlight of the meeting had nothing to do with the company’s commercially available products, though. Rather, it was a trio of samples that Galsworthy had brought in unmarked bottles. These bottles represented in-progress Sipsmith London Dry gin at three different stages off the still. After the heads portion is cut, it takes about three hours for the gin to complete its distillation (until the tails arrive). Galsworthy presented the evolution of Sipsmith London Dry, one hour at a time. After the first hour, the gin showcases clear citrus notes, almost like an orange vodka. It isn’t until the second hour that the juniper really starts to show, with earthier notes coming to the fore during hour three. I didn’t write up any significant notes on these samples since they aren’t actual products for sale, but it was a lot of fun to see how a spirit evolves over a short amount of time during the distillation process. (Click on the chart above for a little more detail.)

Fun stuff, but let’s look at two commercially available Sipsmith bottlings.

Sipsmith Signature Edition Series V.J.O.P. Gin – This is the same botanical mix as standard Sipsmith London Dry — but with three times the juniper and a three day maceration instead of one day. The results are as expected — palpably piney. Juniper is overwhelming on the nose, to the exclusion of nearly anything else in the botanical bill. On the palate, it’s crushingly juniper-forward and very hot (just look at that proof). Water coaxes out more notes — though the juniper dominates from front to back, it features fresh orange, some brown sugar, licorice, and a touch of cinnamon. While it’s an overwhelming experience, it’s not an unsatisfying one — the juniper finishing on a clean and refreshing note. While I’m not normally fond of juniper-heavy gins, Sipsmith’s V.J.O.P. (“Very Junipery Over Proof”) is quite a compelling beast that lets you know from the get-go what its intentions are, and follows through with style. 115.4 proof. A- / $52

Sipsmith Sloe Gin Special Edition 2013 – Sipsmith only makes a sloe gin on an occasional basis (the photo on its website is a 2010 bottling), so I have no idea if this is the current edition. Why vintage? Because sloe berries are an annual harvest, and these are picked in the wild of West Country, UK, in the autumn. The London Dry gin is rested on these berries for 3 to 4 months before bottling. The company says each vintage does indeed taste different, but 2013 is “noteworthy.” Sloe gin often has a cough syrup character to it — it’s really not meant for straight sipping — and Sipsmith’s offers a powerful and pungent character that grabs you by the throat right away. The nose features aromas of dense raspberry and melted Jolly Ranchers, but the body is extremely tart, the hallmark of sloe gin. It comes on strong with an intense herbal overtone, notes of bitter chocolate, and orange rind. All in all, it’s pretty much exactly what you want a good sloe gin to be — sweet and sour in solid balance, with a distinct weirdness you can’t quite place. 58 proof. A- / $43

sipsmith.com