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: Twenty Boat Cape Cod Spiced Rum

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Massachusetts-based craft producer South Hollow Spirits has a heavy focus on rum, one of the traditional spirits of New England in the pre-Prohibition era. The Twenty Boat brand comprises both an amber and a spiced rum, the latter of which we review below.

Made from organic molasses and sugar cane juice sourced from Florida and Louisiana, the rum is double-distilled and steeped for three weeks with a mixture of locally sourced spices: cardamom, vanilla bean, cinnamon, rose hip, anise, lemon peel, orange peel, allspice, nutmeg and chai,

That’s a lot of botanicals, and it makes things curious from the get-go, starting with the color. Twenty Boat Spiced Rum is an engaging shade of dark amber, with a rosy pink hue. On the nose, the rum comes across as youthful, with some raw alcohol character and a bit of astringency dulling notes of molasses, flamed orange peel, cloves, and that unique, cardamom-scented chai. Give this rum some time in glass, and those youthful notes eventually give way to the spicier elements.

On the flipside, the palate is a bit winey and Port-like, heavier with juicy orange notes than the nose would indicate, with hefty cloves, almond, licorice, and allspice notes hitting hard soon after. The finish is sweet and almost candylike, with cinnamon-heavy notes of Red Hots swirled into a somewhat saccharine, syrupy base.

All told this is a highly credible spiced rum — particularly if the higher alcohol content is to your liking — but it feels a bit busy at times. Give it plenty of air to let things marry a bit and for its initially raw characteristics to blow off — never have I encountered a spirit that improved so much from having a full glass left open to the air overnight.

95 proof.

A- / $42 / southhollowspirits.com

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M. (2016)

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When we last left Rhum J.M., Martinique’s celebrated rhum agricole brand, it was 2012. Since that time, J.M. has done a little rebranding, relabeling, and in some cases renaming of its products. In honor of this, we’re giving Rhum J.M. a fresh look — or at least, four of its more widely available products.

Fresh thoughts on these four agricole-style rhums (reminder: made from free-run sugarcane juice, not molasses like regular “no H” rum) follow.

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc White Rum 50% – Note that an 80 proof version also exists, so check the fine print. Intense but unsurprising, this is raw agricole rhum at its purest. The nose has the funky intensity of a white agricole blanc, backed up by tropical banana, coconut, and papaya notes. The finish recalls notes of cherry pits and more ripe banana, with a petrol sheen to it. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois Gold Rum – Aged in oak for 12 months. Lots of exotic character here, with a nose that runs to lemon, ginger, and some floral elements. On the palate, that petrol funk gives way to moderate vanilla notes plus gingerbread, with some camphor and mothball notes adding a medicinal edge to the finish — which detracts a bit from the experience. (This character is far more pronounced in the Gold than in the White Rum, actually, which is quite a surprise.) 100 proof. B / $34

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.O – Not a typo: There is no period after the O here, at least not on the official label. Aged in a combination of new American oak and re-charred bourbon barrels for three years. Notes of cola and Madeira kick things off on the nose, with an undercurrent of vanilla and brown sugar. The palate is particularly winey, offering up red berries after a time, followed by smoldering, ashy molasses, which linger for a time on the raisin-sweet but drying finish. 86 proof. A- / $40

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.S.O.P. – A slight spin on the VO, the VSOP is aged for 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finished for an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak. A shade darker and a bit richer, but otherwise many of the same notes from the VO remain, including a distinct wine character. Here that’s pumped up with clearer notes of cinnamon and gingerbread, particularly on the racier, spicier finish that offers echoes of Cognac. This makes for a different experience that’s more focused on the spice element, though not necessarily a “better” one than the more fruit-centric VO. 86 proof. (Was 90 proof.) A- / $50

rhumjmusa.com

Review: Damoiseau Rhum Agricole Complete Lineup

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Rhum agricole (made from sugar cane juice instead of molasses) is a French style of rum-making made almost exclusively in the French West Indies, specifically on Martinique, where the majority of agricole producers (at least 14 of them) can be found.

Less well-known in the U.S. is rhum agricole from Guadeloupe, which is the home of Damoiseau (among many other distilleries). Damoiseau has been producing spirits for 70 years and is now is imported into the U.S. by Rhum Clement, which makes its own highly-regarded agricole line.

The distillery produces four different bottlings. All are reviewed below. Thoughts follow.

Damoiseau Rhum Agricole Blanc 80 Proof – Single distilled and rested in an oak vat for six months before being brought down to proof. Color is completely clear and transparent. Quite cachaca-like on the nose, with heavy overtones of petrol mixed with super-sweet tropical notes, white sugar, and notes of white flowers. On the palate, the rum is a bit thin, with the myriad overtones present in the nose dialed way back on the tongue. The floral elements are the strongest of these, with some mushroom and earth elements emerging in time. A touch of chocolate on the finish adds a bit of nuance where I wasn’t expecting to find much of any. Interesting, at the very least. 80 proof. B / $30

Damoiseau Rhum Agricole Blanc 110 Proof – Overproof cane rum isn’t common, but here we have Damoiseau’s, aged in oak for three months and bottled with a tinge of yellow left behind. The overall character is very similar to the 80 proof, but with more of a vanilla note on the palate. The already intense petrol notes are enhanced by the abv here, but they manage to remain enough in check so that you can sip on this rum without water — though, again, it is obviously designed for use as a high-test mixer in tiki and other exotic drinks. Worth keeping on the back bar for special occasions. 110 proof. B / $34

Damoiseau Rhum Vieux Agricole VSOP – Aged for a minimum of four years in ex-bourbon barrels. Here we see more classic old rum character — notes of brown sugar, banana, coconut, caramel, and baking spices, all whipped up into a concoction you could sip on any time, but particularly alongside something sweet to eat. While the nose isn’t as expressive as the body, the overall impact is both expressive and complex, a subtle smokiness emerging on the finish to add to its mysteries. 84 proof. A- / $42

Damoiseau Rhum Vieux Agricole XO – Aged for a minimum of six years in ex-bourbon barrels. Heady Cognac overtones lead the way to this XO bottling, which is a bit winey, floral, and fruit-heavy on the nose, with notes of incense popping up. The body takes on herbal notes of thyme and rosemary, its muted caramel sweetness backed up by some not insignificant barrel char notes, a modest slug of raisin and dried cherry, and a drying, slightly tannic finish. This is a rum not particularly showcasing “extra old” character but rather exhibiting its turbulent adolescence, offering ample contradictions and only a hint of underlying sweetness. 84 proof. A- / $70

damoiseaurhum.com

Review: Don Q Rum Signature Release Single Barrel 2005

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Destileria Serralles, producer of Don Q Rum in Puerto Rico, has just launched its latest expression: A vintage rum that was distilled in 2005 and spent 10 years in barrel. The first of a new line of single-barrel releases (a first for Don Q; a 2007 release comes out next year), this rum is a massive departure compared to most rum, which relies heavily on blending to acheive its flavor profile.

Surprisingly sedate, Don Q 2005 offers a nose of modest wood notes, backed up by the essence of a vanilla ice cream sundae with hot fudge sauce. On the palate, the rum drinks younger than you’d think — a bit grainy, a little herbal, with modest brown sugar notes. The palate moves to notes of banana and creme brulee, then takes an interesting and welcome spin on the finish as it echoes notes of dark chocolate and coffee.

All of that is great stuff, but the body is so light and feathery that none of these flavors really has a chance to truly take hold on the palate. Don Q 2005 is not an “anejo” rum in any sense of the word. Rather, despite a not insignificant age, it’s closer to a mid-level amber expression, one which continues to wear its youthful heart on its sleeve but offers a glimpse of what the future may hold.

Seems like a crime to recommend mixing with a $40 single barrel, vintage-dated rum, but that’s where this Don Q expression finds its greatest utility.

80 proof. 6000 bottles produced.

B+ / $40 / donq.com

Review: Saint James Cuvee 1765 Rhum Vieux Agricole

SAINT JAMES - Cuvée 1765Saint James is a massive Martinique rum operation with dozens of product offerings in its vast lineup. Oddly, few of them seem common on U.S. shores, though that may slowly be changing as the distillery’s footprint grows larger.

Cuvee 1765 is the company’s latest offering, bottled to commemorate the company’s 250th anniversary. There’s no real product information to offer here — or rather, it’s all written in French on the neck tag on the bottle — but as with most of these types of releases, it’s clearly a barrel selection of older rums fit for the big occasion that have been put into a fancy bottle.

Saint James Cuvee 1765 offers a quite heated nose, pungent with traditional agricole notes — hot rubber and asphalt, but balanced with burnt sugar and some nutty notes. On the palate, the rum opens up while maintaining that agricole funkiness at its core. Light brown sugar and caramel, some flambéed banana, pungent vegetal notes, and a lengthy, cane-driven sweetness that endures for quite awhile. There’s ample alcohol here, but Cuvee 1765 is warming without being hot, decidedly of the earth without being “green.”

All told, it’s a fine example of a moderately-aged rhum agricole that showcases the uniqueness of this style of rum — and a spirit that is fun to explore as you both sip and mix with it.

84 proof.

B+ / $57 / saintjames-rum.com

Review: Afrohead Aged Rum XO 15 Years Old

Afrohead XO - Front

Last year Afrohead Rum, a capable 7 year old, hit the scene. Today we turn out head toward Afrohead XO, a 15 year old blend from the same Bahamas-based distillery (bottled in Barbados) and featuring the same afro-headed mascot on the bottle.

As with its forebear, Afrohead XO showcases a somewhat rustic and simplistic style. On the nose, some petrol notes are cut with cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, some coffee, and a touch of banana. Light acetone notes emerge with time, but they aren’t overt enough to make a huge impact. On the palate, gentle caramels lead into a touch of orange oil, some overripe apple notes, and a bit of petrol, all on a moderately light body. Overall balance is iffy, but fair enough. The coffee character from the nose makes a resurgence in time, with dusky cloves and dark chocolate dusting the finish.

The rum holds together well, but it lacks the density of flavor and the silky body that makes old rum so compelling. What’s here works well enough, but it’s tough to see this standing out against other products in this price class.

Update: Price cut from $60 to $45, which improves its attractiveness.

86 proof.

B+ / $45 / afroheadrums.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]