Foursquare Hunte’s 10 Year Old Reserve Rum

This is not a rum that you’ll find readily available….I’ll get that out of the way immediately. It is only available for sale at Hunte’s Gardens in Barbados. So, if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in Barbados…..and you really would be fortunate as the island is beautiful….you should definitely take a visit…not only for the Rum but for the gardens themselves. As for Foursquare, you absolutely should visit the distillery too. I have, about 4 times over two visits to the island and if you’d like to read more then a quick entry into the search box would turn up plenty of results.

Located in Saint Joseph Parish which is on the east side of the island and about halfway up, Hunte’s Gardens is like heaven on earth. Based on the working side of the old Castle Grant Plantation which used to process sugarcane, as you walk through the gate you’ll cross over the old sugarcane weighbridge before hearing the classical music which permeates the gardens and sets the tone perfectly. Formed in the remains of a sinkhole created by a cave collapse in the limestone the gardens stretch into the distance below you and the trees stretch far up above your head.

You’ll walk down steps into numerous small private gardens each with a ridiculous amount of plants, flowers, water features and stone statues of varying sizes. Tropical fern and flower lined brick pathways welcoming you with small stone pineapples meander up and down, sometimes to dead end secluded areas and sometimes linking to more open spaces where the palm trees stretch up towards the sun.

At the end of your walk around the gardens you’ll walk up towards Anthony Hunte’s house, passing a few surreal rooms that appear to be frozen in time.

An engaging character, Anthony will tell you about the gardens and you’ll be amazed at just how few people were responsible for its creation. It is here that you’ll find the Rum to purchase by the bottle or the glass……and purchase it you should.

Foursquare Hunte’s 10 Year Old Reserve Rum – 43% abv – Single Blended Rum

So here we have it, a blend of both batch and continuous distillation on Foursquare Distillery’s Pot and Coffey Column stills  matured for a minimum of 10 years in ex-bourbon barrels prior to bottling at 43%. We’d assume that it’s been chill filtered and it has caramel for colour uniformity. This on the surface of things looks to be a very similar proposition to R.L Seale’s 10….but how similar will be revealed as I’ll be sitting with a glass of the 46% export proof for comparison.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately that familiar Foursquare Barbadian nose hits you. Vanilla. Caramel. Warm buttery shortcrust pastry. Plenty of nuttiness and light peppery barrel spice. Coconut is definitely present as is quite an obvious cocoa powder. The oak brings a warming woody backbone to the nose and this encourages the coconut and chocolate to become more influential casting aside the nutty quality in favour of a slightly sweeter approach with Marshmallow and a little orange-y citrus note. Mild coffee notes round things out.

Mouth: The initial entry is quite dry and spice led. This is backed up with short lived heat. Coconut water and coconut milk are the first impressions with just a hint of freshly cut peach. Big on the cocoa with just a hint of almond. Buttery pastry and vanilla custard. The coconut milk and chocolate lead into the warming spicy mid palate with its drying quality and heightened oak bringing vanilla, pepper and ginger. Very warming, very comforting. A hint of raisin and molasses leads into the medium length warm silky woody finish that brings back coconut chips coated in chocolate. Sugared almonds. Classic freshly cut peach is joined by peach vapours at the back end. The coconut water rises up and washes over your tongue right at the death. Well balanced and clear in its delivery.

In conclusion: Priced very well at $70BDS ($35 USD) which at the time was about £25, this Foursquare Hunte’s 10 Year Reserve Rum offers a classic experience of Barbadian rum, and in particular Foursquare Rum with its real poise and balance. Rum’s to compare would be the 43% and 46% R.L Seale’s 10. Both of these are 10 years old with full tropical maturation. Both are single blended rums. Both are priced around £35-£40 and I have no doubt that is where this rum would be positioned were it to make it here. In fact I had a glass of the 46% with me for comparison. Where the R.L Seale’s sits on a little more heat and is more nutty in its profile with dialed down cocoa, this Hunte’s 10 Year Reserve is all about the chocolate and coconut. My preference probably sits with the export strength R.L Seale’s 10 at this point due to the nutty quality and its slightly higher abv but lets be honest…. what’s not to like? Quality Rum at a steal of a price that you can only obtain by visiting the beautiful island of Barbados and walking around a tropical garden. Sounds like heaven. I think that we’ve more than established at this point that Foursquare Rum Distillery just don’t make bad rum….and if you obtain distillery matured and bottled products you absolutely cannot go wrong.

4 / 5

As a side note, I’ve also seen a photograph of an amended label design….but the Rum hasn’t changed….You know that the completest in me will be visiting in November to grab the updated label.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Foursquare Patrimonio – Single Blended Rum

Its been a hell of a few months financially…..and not in a positive way. Everything seemingly dropped at once….the new Exceptional Cask Selections, Doorly’s 14, the surprise of Hereditas, Worthy Park 12 and the new Habitation Velier releases. Sometimes thats just how it happens…..but we can’t forget the release of Patrimonio….even though it felt like it was on the boat for a hell of a long time. One of three partially ex-Sherry matured Foursquare releases that appeared in quick succession. I hadn’t considered myself a person needed that many ex-Sherry Rums in my collection but I duly picked them all up. Hereditas (linked in the opening sentence) was the second bottle that I opened after Empery. I really enjoyed Hereditas as you will see from my review, but at the time of writing this I am probably enjoying Empery more given the bottle fill levels. They are both different beasts, which is where this trio of releases becomes interesting. From the same origins, and the same upbringing, in the same climate, we see such differing results……maybe I did need ‘that many’ ex-Sherry Rums after all. Foursquare have made good use of ex-Oloroso barrels in some of their previous and ongoing releases. Doorly’s XO sees a secondary maturation of at least a year in them, Premise sees its three years in ex-bourbon complimented by an additional 7 years in ex-Oloroso and now we have the three new additions. Often seen as a relatively ‘new’ thing to do,  Foursquare Rum Distillery are at the forefront of the successful use of fortified wine barrels. These things are viewed by some as breaking away from the ‘norm’ of ex-bourbon barrel maturation, but in actual fact its the other way around. Deliveries of Port, Madeira and Sherry would’ve been made to Barbados, and to avoid shipping empty barrels, unaged Rum would’ve been sent back in them. It makes sense to use what is available. I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘Rum Tasting of the Century’ last year and I was able to try the 1780 dated Harewood House Rum. Now that Rum was definitely young, and it definitely displayed the effects of fortified wine barrel maturation. I allude to this in my write up of the event. Ex-bourbon makes sense now given the ease of transportation plus the rules of engagement for Bourbon stating that the barrels can be used once. Anyhow, enough waffling. Lets get down to the serious business of trying Patrimonio.

Foursquare Patrimonio – 58% abv – Single Blended Rum 

Patrimonio, as you will see above, means ‘Heritage’. Perhaps referring to the heritage of Barbados Rum in both the use of Batch and Continuous distillations to create the Rum and also the use of Sherry Barrels.

Distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2019, Foursquare Patrimonio Single Blended rum is composed of two elements. A Single Blended Rum matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels for a period of 14 years and a Single Blended Rum matured for 10 years in ex-Bourbon barrels before transferring to first fill ex-Oloroso Sherry barrels for a further period of 4 years. These components are then blended and rested prior to being bottled at 58% abv. No colour. No chill filtration. No nonsense. 6000 bottles were produced so hopefully more people get to experience the Rum. I first got the smallest taster of Patrimonio right at the end of the 2018 UK Rumfest on the Sunday. I was walking out of the room and happened to pass Richard who duly poured me a small drop. I had been tasting Rums all day at that point and all that I recall muttering was “Wow thats soft. Sherry? What abv? Late 40’s?”. Was my extremely ‘fatigued’ palate anywhere close?

Tasting Notes

Nose: A little astringent in the nose when first poured. I’ve found that Patrimonio needs more time to acclimatise and reveal itself that Empery or Hereditas….even though there is only 2% abv between them. It also presents itself as an oilier proposition. Plenty of wood up front and a hint of smoke. Deep dark and brooding damp oak. It’s not overly dominant though, merely announcing itself at the start of the journey. Familiarity muscles in with the classic Foursquare notes of vanilla and a hint of butterscotch. Time brings a touch of fruit and nut milk chocolate. Warm Crema Catalana with a crispy caramelised brown sugar topping. The nose on this rum is continually developing over time, it’s more an experience than an easy and immediate pour. There is also a hell of a lot developing from the barrels on the nose here with plenty of coconut and black pepper spice. Stewed stone fruit. Mixed raisins and peel. Glazed fruit cake with toasted almonds. It remains an attention holding rum with developing tobacco notes, more wet wood and an almost candied boiled fruit sweet note as it sits in the glass.

Mouth: Very big and very oily mouthfeel. A little heat from its 58% but nowhere near the level one would expect from a 58% spirit. In actual fact is pretty soft in its approach. It’s also a chewy rum and one that drinks far more instantly than the nose suggested….but the time spent nosing definitely affords the rum space to stretch its legs and develop. A beautiful sweetness washes over your palate bringing with it baked apples with a mincemeat filling. Solid and moist Christmas fruit cake. Candied citrus peel. There is a developing Demerara sugar note too. The mid palate is dominated by a growing and increasingly more forceful wet oak that excerpts an almost arid dryness on your palate. Less spice notes from the barrel, though they are there. The deep sherried notes appear and cast a little pleasing bitterness that is fully aligned with the robust oak. Tart fruits….cranberries and fresh raspberries, maybe a hint of gooseberry. Ripe Victoria Plums. The continual drive from the wood brings forth the vanilla, coconut and cocoa notes found on the nose. Pan de Higo from the crazy Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona. Continual glass visits bring a little growing bitterness from the fruit and barrel influence but that is expertly balanced by the ubiquitous sweetness of vanilla, coconut and cocoa. The finish is long and entirely consistent with the palate which is quite wonderful. The addition of a more prominent assertion of the tobacco notes during the final exchanges is joined by powdered liquorice root and a whiff of burnt splints.

Balance seems to be critical with Sherry Cask Rums and is very well displayed with the trio of recent releases. They are an example of how from very similar origins of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso, three connected but differing experiences can be created. The sherry casks, whilst all are first fill, have differing backgrounds. But how do these differing experiences come about? Temperatures can vary in the beautiful partially open sided Ageing warehouses at Foursquare. Maybe this causes more exchanges through the barrel in certain locations, maybe differing pot/ column ratios were used, this release definitely feels a little oilier and heavier. I don’t know. What I do know is that through 2006, Triptych, Principia, both Destino releases, I have been suitably impressed by the quality and experience found within these bottles. Triptych with its faultless blend of three differing oaks, Principia with its 6 years in ex-Oloroso, Destino with its 2 years in ex-Madeira all offered so much. Then we have the one that set the benchmark for all subsequent bottlings so high…..Foursquare 2006 with its 3 years in ex-Bourbon and 7 years in ex-Cognac. Patrimonio for me, is the one that can rival the experience of the legend that is 2006. A faultless display of rum making utilising traditional techniques and perfectly employing the heritage associated with historical maturation of Rum in Barbados. All of this is being done in a fully compliant manner with the proposed Barbados Rum GI which some are calling stifling and a barrier to innovation…..Amazing eh…..

5 / 5 +

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

That Boutique-y Rum Company Secret Distillery #1 – Jamaica – Batch 2

We’re back with another ‘secret’ but not so ‘secret’ Jamaican bottling from That Boutique-y Rum Company. I reviewed the initial Batch 1 release here and found it to be a pretty pleasant release, a little different to many of the usual independent ‘secret Jamaican distillery’ releases. So essentially, That Boutique-y Rum Company aim to bring interesting expressions, not categorised by colour or ‘style’ to Rum Geeks, Adventurous Rookies and the Rum Curious. As the consultant at the helm is Peter Holland of The Floating Rumshack fame, expect some belters.

As a quick aside, there may or may not be some information on said ‘Secret Jamaican Distillery’ if you were to click here or here.

But without further ado or fanfare, lets get into this one.

That Boutique-y Rum Company Secret Distillery #1 – Jamaica – Batch 2 – 51.5% abv – Pure Single Rum – 1821 Bottles

If you recall from the previous review of Batch 1, that release was 9 years old and it was matured in both Tropical and Continental climates. You will also recall that it was from the ‘secret’ Worthy Park Distillery. This release is 6 years old and dependent upon bottling was distilled in either 2013 or 2012. The information available tells us that this Rum has entirely Continental maturation…..but for a change, all of those 6 years were spent inside an ex-Sauternes cask. Sauternes being a sweet French desert wine from Bordeaux made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle grapes. The grapes used are chosen as they have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as “noble rot“. This has the effect of making the grapes slightly ‘raisined’ which results in a concentrated and quite distinct flavour to the wine. A release of 1821 bottles, mine is number 1468, the Rum will be naturally coloured and will not have been chill filtered. Now Worthy Park is quite unique and recognisable, but what exactly has that 6 years in an ex-Sauternes barrel done to it….

Tasting Notes

Nose: Nice and astringent to start out. Wearing it’s youth on its sleeve. Definitely Jamaican, definitely Worthy Park. Overripe banana, but dialled down. Black tea. A little savoury too…maybe a touch of cured meat. A spicy nose with ginger and a hint of sweet fragrant spice. Ripe Victoria plums. Fresh apple juice. A date like toffee asserts itself alongside sweet maple and pecan pastries. Brazil nuts and raisins. Light molasses providing that sweet / bitter interplay. A hint of oak appears at the back end and brings with it warm spicy fruit loaf. Very appealing.

Mouth: Nice and lightly sweet entry. Nothing too hot. Nothing too distracting. A very prominent sweet white wine note (well obviously…..Sauternes) but carrying something darker and sweeter… maybe prunes in a sticky toffee pudding. Vanilla ice cream topped with a thick, sticky PX. Raisins raisins raisins. Plump and juicy. Growing oak on the mid palate brings a pleasing dryness that doesn’t dominate in any way, the spike of peppery barrel spice and a hint of molasses bitterness. The dark fruit theme develops with slice of my Auntie Hazel’s fruit loaf straight from the oven with butter on it. Light warmed banana and a spoonful of molasses. Garibaldi biscuits. The medium length finish is the sum of its parts, completing the experience with the return of youthful alcohol vapours at the back end and sweet candied pecans.

4 / 5

Plenty to like, and at times I think that I prefer this to Batch #1……at times I don’t though. Either way, at just shy of £37 its definitely worth picking up.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

William George Rum

A few weeks ago at Manchester Rum Festival I got to meet a chap named Andrew Nicholls promoting a Rum. That Rum was called William George. I had been enjoying my bottle for a few months now so it was good to put a face to the brand. Andrew himself is one of the founders and oversaw the blending of the Rum. He started life as a bartender in January 2000 and only recently gave that up at the end of 2018. Andrew is the Netherlands Rum Educator for WSET and was the Benelux Representative for the ACR (Authentic Caribbean Rum) programme. On top of this he has gained awards for his bartending and bars, is part of the seminar selection committee for Tales of the Cocktail and is also on the judging panel for ‘Worlds 50 Best Bars’……His list of accolades is far more impressive than anything I can muster….though I do have a 25m swimming badge and a certificate marking my third place in the school ‘egg and spoon’ race in 1985.

There is also a story behind the Rum, so if you’ll indulge me I’ll recount it below.

William Simpson

Andrew created this blend to honour his two grandfathers…..can you guess their names? Yep….you got it…..William and George. William Simpson (above) and George Nicholls (below) were Grandfathers to the two founders of William George Rum….Andrew and Richard Nicholls.

George Nicholls

William moved from England to Zambia in 1938 and returned to England to serve in World war II….he then returned to Zambia after the war. George moved from England to Zimbabwe in 1956 after also serving in World War II. Both men developed a love of Africa and they would have been in Africa at the same time in 1956, though they were living in separate countries. This connection ties through to the imaging used on the labels. Housed in a tall and elegant bottle, the label is quite unique and detailled. William lived in Zambia and George lived in Zimbabwe. On the border between these two countries is Victoria Falls. The quill on the compass is pointing to 11 degrees west of magnetic North which in 1956 would have been true North when calculated from Victoria Falls. Further label details connect to the Rums namesakes with the font being taken from a 1964 Certificate of Baptism that George had signed as Godfather to his friends child. The handwritten element reflects the writing found in a letter that William sent to his wife (Andrew and Richards Grandmother) in the 1950’s and the wording you see reads ‘blissful happiness for decades of time’. This is what was written by William in the letter to Wendy. So there you go. Lets have a look at the bottle contents.

William George Rum – 43% abv – Blended Rum

It looks to be that the blend has been put together without any emphasis on age or origin, instead attempting to focus on the flavour profile and the core value of no additives. The information on the bottle tells us that the Rum has been blended in Amsterdam, so that will be at E&A Scheer. It is a blend of six Rums in total. Four Pot Still Jamaican Rums and two multi-column Trinidadian Rums. The Jamaican Pot Still components which make up 61% of the blend are all unaged. They are from Hampden, Worthy Park, New Yarmouth and Clarendon. The multi column Trinidadian components which account for 39% of the blend are obviously from Angostura. One of them is unaged and the other is a blend of 2 to 5 year old Rums matured in 200 litre ex-bourbon barrels which are then carbon filtered to remove colour. The ester range of the marques used within the blend ranges from 100 gr/hlaa to 900gr/hlaa with the total volatile count of the final blend being 317.1 gr/hlaa.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Nice and oily in the glass with legs taking an age to form. There’s no doubting or avoiding the fact that this blend has a majority Jamaican pot still component within. Bright grassy cane notes. The merest hint of the familiar aroma of Uncle Wray. Molasses. Creamy. Tinned fruit cocktail and single cream. Candied sweetness of pineapple rings in juice. A good balance is struck as just when you get your nose lost in the unaged pot still, the lighter aged column notes lift to the surface and bring with them vanilla. Citrus oil and a little bright fruit sweetness linger almost permanently as you approach the glass and as the liquid heats up it morphs into warm banana fritters. A little ethyl acetate creeps in right at the back end. Plenty to enjoy here.

Mouth: Not as sweet an entry as the nose eluded to but it’s definitely as oily as the appearance led me to believe. Plenty of grip on the palate with a little heat. A hint of tinned strawberry soaked trifle sponge. It’s all pot still up front and very approachable….also massively enjoyable neat. Grassy vibrant cane plays alongside the merest hint of white pepper and the zip of citrus. Sugared almonds. A mixed bag of creamy Macadamia and Cashew nuts. Sweetened whipped cream and peaches round things out. Growing heat.

Not as entertaining on the palate as it is on the nose (maybe a lift to 46% would assist?) but that is not meant to do the palate a disservice….it wouldn’t usually see regular rotation neat for me but it has done since I opened it. Dare I say it that I’m also mentioning it in the same sentence as Veritas……which is quite frankly a superb Rum and is high praise indeed….though this does sit around £10 higher in price than Veritas. Its designed to mix well but also to display and retain its character….and it does. It makes a superb Daiquiri (I do enjoy prominent pot still in a daiquiri) and a very refreshing Rum and Tonic. Also…..I love a Banana Daiquiri, and with a more than 50% pot still component, this does a hell of a job. My bottle was picked up from the chaps at Skylark Spirits on their Amazon Store.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

MHOBA Rum – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum – Part 2

Time for Part 2 in the series of MHOBA Rum reviews but the third part in the full MHOBA series of articles. You can pick up on Part 1 of the reviews here and also read a lot more into MHOBA and the inner workings of what they do here.

You can clearly see in those two articles how much effort goes into the production of the output MHOBA and how much care is taken to prepare the casks for the maturation of MHOBA Rum. This article will feature three of the four matured Rums in the line up. These are:

MHOBA Strand 101

MHOBA American Oak Aged

MHOBA French Oak Cask

*There is another release, the Glass Cask which will be included here once I have completed my notes*

Let’s get right into them.

MHOBA Strand’s 101 – 58% abv – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum

Now called Strand 101 for its LMDW release, it remains however inspired by its namesake…the “Crazy Dane” Knud Strand. Knud has a history of working with large brands from Bacardi to Cachaça Novo Fogo and this bottling, like quite a lot of MHOBA ideas was a happy accident. Following an extensive sample tasting process Knud found himself with samples of the first run of the High Ester and the super woody 2 year Glass Cask Aged. He mixed the two together to hopefully balance the in your face funk of the High Ester and super woody profile of the glass cask. During a few tasting and presentation sessions Knud found that the blend proved to be popular. The desire was to have the product as an homage to some of Knud’s favourite products. The 101 to reflect his enjoyment of Wild a Turkey 101….Knud expected a direct proof to abv halving as per the US system but true to Roberts heritage, Imperial Proof was what we got. The Blue and Gold of the label reflects Knud’s love of Smith & Cross. But what is the liquid like.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Bright vibrant cane. Very pungent. Acetone. Varnish. Earthy root vegetables. Menthol. Herbal and perfumed. A hint of oak influence excerpts itself with a whiff of smoke. A lot of fermented fruit and wild strawberries carry through on the nose. It remains astringent and pungent with crisp green apples. It’s almost the best of both worlds. Vibrant youth and more balanced age.

Mouth: Beautifully sweet and oily entry accompanied by a lot of heat. The bite of a youthful spirit rules the early exchanges with fresh sugarcane, fermenting tropical fruit and cider. A lot of funk. On the mid palate the aged component begins to envelop your tongue and becomes quite tannic, drying out your palate. This leaves a medium length finish that develops from tinned fruit with fresh cream through coffee, an oaken influence and then into a warming peppery finale. Good balance of youth and maturity.

Very very enjoyable Rum……and if you’ve met Knud, you’ll see how it reflects his character…..approachable, warm and a little bit crazy.

4 / 5

I attempted to pair it up with Smith & Cross in a Mai Tai but it destroyed the Jamaican in standard recipe proportions so it needed re-balancing. Once I’d done that, it made an unbelievable drink.

MHOBA American Oak Aged – 43% abv – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum

Initially left to mature in large glass demijohns with wood fire charred and cut American oak staves, this Rum is then transferred to Ex South African Whisky casks for a second maturation period. It is then reduced and bottled.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Charred wood. Smoke. Caramel. Vanilla. Burnt wooden splints. Light sweet grain notes. Bonfire embers and powdered sugar. Warm fudge. Black pepper and pencil shavings.

Mouth: Heavy, drying oak. Damp cardboard. Grilled smoked meat. Warm charred timber…memories of woodwork classes at school. Butterscotch. The mid palate brings a slowly growing coffee influence. Dark chocolate. The charred embers of a fire on the beach. The dry and medium length finish is all dominant oak, light vanilla and powdered cocoa with lingering charred, smoked wood that grows increasingly bitter.

Not at the top of my list as far as the aged Rums go, but I do have a small cask sample of just the ex South African Whisky barrel matured and its a bit special.

3 / 5

MHOBA French Oak Cask Rum – 65% abv – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum

The French Oak Cask release sees a real step up in bottle presentation. It is housed within a hand constructed laser engraved bamboo box and the front and rear bottle labels are laser engraved bamboo. As you’ll note, this bottle was personalised and given to me at the UK Rumfest in October. Receiving it was a very humbling experience. The Select Reserve Rums are some of the Rums adjudged to be the most exceptional. In this instance the selected distillates have been matured for a minimum 12 month French Oak casks that previously held Cape Red Wine. These casks are brought in by MHOBA and are refurbished.

Barrel Charring with Hardwood Coals

The first eight French Oak casks obtained by Robert we’re stripped, ground and reassembled before toasting and sealing. Toasting would be via either the use of coals of an LPG torch. Each cask was filled over a two day period. First half filling with a single distillate Rum, Robert then sampled the cask blend the day after and make a decision on where to go next. Second distillate Rums are then added along with water for dilution reducing the abv to somewhere between 65 and 70%. Only when happy with the contents are the barrels sealed. The French Oak Cask reviewed here is taken from an equal blend of the best six casks from the initial eight. I do have an LMDW order bottle that has seen an additional six months in the barrel so I will update when that is opened.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose displays a lot of control for a 65% spirit. The oak is well integrated into the spirit but a perfumed and fragrant effect from the French oak is definitely present. A perfect balance of spiced notes from the barrel and classic, grassy sugarcane notes. Reminiscent of some truly wonderful aged agricoles. Bright acidic fruit, crisp apples. Growing tropical fruit….ripe mango. Guava jam. The oak is ever present but never overly dominant. Warming and spicy. Pencil shavings. Hints of red grapes and tart cranberries.

Mouth: Well balanced entry. Initially sweet, intensely so with a touch of powdered sugar and tropical fruit leathers. The freshness of the cane shines through. Intense moisture sapping dryness and huge amounts of grip on the mid palate from the French oak. There’s also a mineral quality. It remains soft though and never aggressive. Well balanced spice notes from the oak bounce off the vibrancy of the spirit to provide a fulfilling experience. The exceedingly long and intense finish sees sugarcane and tropical fruit mix with a huge oaken influence laden with spice, barrel charr and wet cardboard. Cranberry juice and succulent, crisp apples. A well balanced, fulfilling experience that will surprise a lot of people. Well crafted well executed rum.

Some producers have been working for years and have still not produced something as accomplished as this Rum.

4.5 / 5

I am fully aware that the Rums reviewed in this series will and may have moved on from these expressions. Different batches, harvests and more cask time are all components, welcome ones of being such a small producer and that fascinates me. It is also why I feel that MHOBA are so exciting as a producer, changing, developing and growing in both output and confidence all of the time. Robert has full autonomy over the distillates and therefore has the ability to experiment with fermentation methods, time, dunder, cane varieties and also with cask maturation enabling so many possibilities. Updates will be provided moving forwards.

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

MHOBA Rum – A South African Farm to Bottle Story

MHOBA translates as ‘Sugarcane’ from siSwati which is the language spoken by the local Swazi people.

Seemingly appearing from nowhere, MHOBA Rum have started to make themselves known in the Rum world. I first encountered them at the UK RumFest in London in October 2017 where they had three or four expressions of their Pure Single Sugarcane Rum that were creating a bit of a stir. I got chatting to owner, Robert Greaves about the brand and their expressions. I purchased two bottles in 2017 and stayed in touch with Robert. Fast forward to the UK RumFest in October 2018 and MHOBA are again present at both the Boutique Rumfest and the main weekend event. This time they have brought with them eight individual expressions and have taken the Boutique Rumfest by storm with a huge buzz surrounding them. This continued over the course of the whole weekend with MHOBA becoming a bit of a talking point among the attendees post RumFest. I knew that I needed to get some information written about them to hopefully get the limelight directed to a team that I thought were humble, engaging and willing to chat. The intention was to get a few questions out to Robert to build an interview……to find out his background, his motivation and his processes. It rather quickly became apparent that a simple question and answer interview would be underplaying the wealth of information that Robert has discussed with me during our conversations and I hope to recount the timeline from the beginning to that landmark 2017 Rumfest visit up to the recent delivery of a large order to LMDW in France which is a significant moment bringing the Rums of MHOBA to a global audience. So please stick with me if you will, as I attempt to tell you an in-depth and quite personal story of a proudly South African ‘Farm to Bottle’ Producer.

MHOBA Rum – A South African Farm to Bottle Story

Robert Redvers Greaves was born to an Artist Mother and a Mining Engineer Father in Johannesburg, South Africa in January 1978. The families of both his Mother and Father have been in South Africa for 3 or 4 generations. His Fathers lineage is entirely British as far back as the family have been able to trace, whereas his Mother is descended from Scottish and Dutch origins. Schooled and raised in Johannesburg, Robert then studied Mechanical Engineering at Stellenbosch and WITS Universities. Post studies, he began working as an Engineer in the Mining industry in underground construction contracting until his Father offered him the opportunity to take over his small Mining business. The business, built up since 1985 comprised two small-scale and marginal Mining operations in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Robert made the decision to relocate from Johannesburg to the larger of the two mines near Malalane to manage the mine himself and to save any costs associated with having to employ a Manager for the operation. As a result of the drastic deterioration of the Mining industry in the whole of South Africa over the course of the last 20 years, business income needed to be supplemented. To do this during the period of decline, they started growing sugarcane on their property to sell to the local Sugar Mill.

Robert and his family live on the Eastern side of South Africa near the border with Mozambique. Their property is just south of the Kruger National Park nature reserve in the Nkomazi area of Mpumalanga, not far from the small town of Malalane. By far the largest business in the surrounding area, and the raison d’être for the existence of town of Malalane is the recently renamed RCL Foods (previously TSB) Sugar Mill. The surrounding farms that provide the Sugar Mill with sugarcane alongside the supply of all other goods and services that the Mill requires provides a livelihood and to a certain extent, a way of life for the majority of the areas residents. Relocating from the ‘New York of Africa’……Johannesburg, to the rural farm life in Malalane had a profound and significant effect on Robert. Having an involvement with and being surrounded by the sugarcane farming culture influenced his lifestyle and his way of thinking. For most of its existence the mining business started by his Father had been marginal as far as profitability goes and with the steady and apparent decline of South Africa’s economy and the mining industry being plagued by problems, other opportunities needed to be identified to both supplement and possibly provide an alternative direction the keep the business running and the property maintained.

Growing sugarcane and being embedded in a cane growing region, sugarcane and sugarcane products provided a focal point for Robert to develop an opportunity involving their produce. Given the low value of unprocessed cane locally and his farm being relatively small in terms of yield when viewed alongside other larger properties in the area, producing sugar that could compete with the large expanse of the RCL Foods Sugar Mill was out of the question. Robert considered the production of alcohol from their cane. Without the knowledge that he now possesses, Robert initially thought that Rum was only made from molasses. Following a period of online research, he realised that Cachaca was a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. Socio-economic parallels are often drawn between South Africa and Brazil and the idea of making what he initially viewed as ‘South African Cachaca’ quickly gained traction as he had the sugarcane, and the similarities of their local cane growing cultures meant that locals could take to a sugarcane spirit as the Brazilian people had done. Robert had the vision of making a ‘Single Malt Whisky style spirit’ insofar as that he wanted it to be the product of batch / pot distillation and did not want to sully the distillate with colour or flavourings other than the oak. As he had not yet discovered Rhum Agricole, it would be a ‘Brazilian Style Rum’.

The eureka moment, the realisation of a future in Rum making came in 2013. Robert and his wife attended a wedding at the hotel Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius, and a man named Guillaume Graffeille was the person that helped him arrive at this pivotal decision.

Robert recalls sitting at the hotel bar and being mesmerized by the quantity and variety of available Rums on the back-bar and it far exceeded anything that he had previously laid eyes on. Fortunately it seems, the barman had disappeared for a short while and as he perused the weird and wonderful bottles on display, Robert was assisted by a bald chap who was buried in paperwork and appeared to be a Senior hotel staff member. His name was Guillaume. Rather reluctantly, but whilst retaining every ounce of his professionalism, he broke away from his administrative tasks to assist Robert in his requests to view some of the numerous bottles on the shelves and also provided answers to the numerous elementary questions being asked. Robert specifically recalls that at one distinct point the man asked, “Where do you come from?” and when the question was answered with “South Africa”, his retort was, “Yes, you guys know nothing about rum. You only know grapes, wines and brandy”. As discussions progressed, it was reveled that the hotel had a selection of 120 Rums and that they enjoyed being able to take guests on a “Rum taste tour” with Rums sourced from across the globe. “Wherever there is sugarcane, there is Rum” advised Guillaume. It was at this moment that the penny dropped for Robert. Just about everywhere that sugarcane is grown, some form of Rum is produced, and in the area that he lived it was actually one of the exceptions to the rule. If Rum worked in so many other diverse cane growing locations, why not where he lived? Surely all that he needed to do was make good quality Rum? Its at that point that Robert seemingly went headlong down the path to becoming a bit of a Rum maniac.

Early Efforts

Upon returning from Mauritius, Robert immediately started juicing his sugarcane by hand in a vice on a workbench making small 10 litre fermentation batches that could take several hours. These were left to ferment in buckets. He also hand built his first rudimentary stainless steel gas fired still during that first fermentation from what was once a milk urn. Numerous batches of ungodly and revolting distillates were produced, all enthusiastically tested by him and anyone else that was unfortunate enough to be near and willing enough to try……there were not many repeat volunteers. With a lot of persistence, a willingness to try many variations on his fermentation’s and several revisions of small handmade stills, Robert managed to produce what he (at that stage) and the majority of willing volunteers believed was a really good, “smooth” spirit by triple distilling to 95% abv. He continued to experiment and perfect the pure spirit that he wanted to produce at that stage and as feedback became more and more positive he decided to apply to obtain a license to allow the production and sale of his own Rum commercially.

Following months of objections from neighbours, several consultants and countless lawyers bills, Robert eventually received his “Micro Manufacturers Liquor License” and excise account from the relevant South African tax authorities in June 2015, opening the gate and allowing him to produce and sell MHOBA Rum. Very much a ‘hands on’ and practical chap, he built their first roller cane press and a 200 litre stripping still which allowed them to do quite well in terms of selling their “White” and “Glass Cask” aged Rum in the local market. This is even more impressive given that this relative success of their first two Rums occurred in a country that has considerably lower levels of Rum knowledge and appreciation. Positive feedback was raining in from “those in the know” within the industry and that is the point when Robert met Andy Kiloh, also known as the RumBro. Andy was able to carry samples of the MHOBA output to The Miami Rum Festival in 2016 and he returned with encouraging feedback and opinions from those introduced to the Rum. A key driver to the 2017 Rumfest appearance was a visit by Robert to the Mauritius Rum Festival in 2017 as this is where he met Ian Burrell. Appearing to be quite taken with MHOBA Rum, Ian invited Robert to the UK Rumfest a little later that year. Ian’s enthusiasm for MHOBA was a huge confidence boost for Robert as it was the first time that he understood that there would be a potential market far beyond local sales. UK Rumfest 2017 proved to be a steep learning curve as it presented the ability to taste Rums that were previously unheard of to him and more importantly he had the opportunity to meet the producers whilst simultaneously receiving very positive feedback from some well respected names. He specifically received some constructive advice and feedback from Richard Seale at the 2017 UK Rumfest and that advice has been key to allowing Robert to raise his game quite substantially. Having some of the most knowledgeable people in the Rum world compliment his Rum was a big deal to Robert and this alongside the constructive feedback provided the energy required to elevate MHOBA to bigger and better things.

Amazing how economic situations can give rise to new opportunities to motivated and hard working individuals and the story is testament to the fact that chance meetings and words of encouragement can change the trajectory of a persons path by allowing them to focus on new goals that may have been in front of their eyes the whole time.

Processes

The “Farm to Bottle” aspect of MHOBA is no empty moniker. As a team and a producer, they do things themselves. From owning the land where their cane is farmed, manufacturing their sugarcane press, their fermentation vats, their stills, their labels etc, Robert has created an environment whereby they may be reliant upon materials, but they know how to repair equipment and he knows the distillation equipment intimately….after all, he built it. The following information will cover the sugarcane from fields to harvest, sugarcane pressing, fermentation, distillation, maturation and bottling and thanks to Robert, it will be littered with some pretty unique images.

Cane Fields and Harvest

This is a crucial stage in MHOBA‘s rum making and a major part of what differentiates them from a molasses producer or even a cane juice producer buying juice from someone else. The varietals that do well in their area were developed by the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) which makes them unique internationally, and when combined with the local climate, soil type, magnesium rich water and local microbials gives MHOBA rums a most definite, distinctive and unique terroir.

Very few people (even in the international rum geek fraternity) really understand how much work goes in to being a true “Farm to Bottle” producer. They plant their own cane, grow their own cane, cut and de-trash their own cane by hand and then shred and juice the cane using manually operated, hand fed machinery. There is a massive amount of work, all done by the MHOBA team, that goes in to producing each and every litre of their pure sugarcane juice wash. Once a tank of freshly squeezed juice is fermenting, the rest of the rum making process is then relatively easy in comparison to getting that juice ready for the yeast.

Another thing worthy of note is that MHOBA have begun the process of becoming accredited as the first fully organic sugarcane producer in South Africa.

Sugarcane Pressing

Robert has built two types of cane presses in the last 6 years. The first was a more conventional roll type press which had two counter rotating large steel wheels which squeeze the cane sticks between them. This old press is no longer in use, though is pictured below:

Original Redundant Cane Press

Press Feed Conveyor

Cane Press Location

They utilised the rotating roller press for about two years before Robert designed and then built the current press, which is totally unique. He have never heard of anyone else using a press of this type. The press works on a batch principle which makes it slower in terms of cane throughput, but it is significantly more effective in extracting the juice from the cane. It is basically a large, thick walled steel pipe which is filled with pre-shredded sugarcane. This shredded cane is then pressed with a hydraulic plunger which presses the shredded cane with a force equivalent to a weight of about 60 tonnes.

Removing Spent Bagasse

The process of juicing sugarcane at MHOBA is as follows:

  • After cutting and de-trashing (removal of the cane stick tops and leaves which contain no juice) cane by hand it is placed in heaps in the fields which are again loaded by hand on to a small tractor-trailer which delivers the freshly cut cane to the cane press
  • The cane sticks are hand fed into a hammer mill which shreds the cane into a more compressible coarse pulp. This pulp fills a stainless steel hopper or bin which is the correct volume to fill the press
  • Once the feed bin is full the hammer mill is stopped and the hopper contents are fed by conveyor belt in to the barrel of the press
  • The full press barrel is then moved sideways into the press position underneath the hydraulic ram and the ram moves downwards by means of a hydraulic cylinder and compresses the shredded cane at the bottom of the barrel
  • The pressure on the cane is maintained for several minutes until no further juice is seen exiting the bottom of the barrel
  • Once the press is completed, the ram is retracted and the cylinder is then moved sideways to the bagasse ejecting position and a smaller hydraulic cylinder and ram are used to push the plug of compressed bagasse out of the bottom of the cylinder on to a conveyor belt which places the spent bagasse on a stockpile
  • A portion of the spent bagasse is mixed with cattle and chicken manure to form an organic fertiliser which is returned to the cane fields and the remainder of the bagasse is burnt to generate heat for the stills
  • The cane press produces between 1 and 4 000 litres of pure cane juice per day

Pure Nkomazi Sugarcane Juice

Cane Juice Collection Tank

Fermentation

MHOBA grow 6 or 7 Sugarcane Varietals on their farm which are supplied to the local sugar mill. There are two dedicated varieties grown in their fields which are dedicated to the production of MHOBA Rum. These are N57 and N36. Both are South African developed varieties, developed by SASRI (South African Sugarcane Research Institute). It is these two varieties that as mentioned above, MHOBA are in the process of acquiring organic certification for.

2000 litre Fermentation Batch (7-10 Day)

Because MHOBA shred their cane prior to pressing as mentioned above, quite a bit of the naturally occurring yeast is washed off the outer portions of the cane when it gets squeezed and ends up in the juice. Their press is also quite slow to operate so it takes several hours to press a full batch of juice and during its time in the tank the juice begins to ferment naturally. Once a full 1000 litre batch has been pressed it is usually fermenting moderately using only the natural yeasts. They then transfer the 1000 litre fermentation batch to the fermentation tanks and add a commercial yeast which is standard baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeast pitching and variety are uniform for all of the currently released Rums thus far, including the High Ester long ferments. Robert has experimented with some 100% wild ferments but they have not yet made it to sale.

Dunder / Long Fermentation Batch (21 Day)

MHOBA do not use temperature control during fermentation as due to the small size of their batches, the critical mass has not yet been achieved in terms of the yeast activity raising the temperature of the ferments to a detrimental level. They have recently begun using 2000 litre fermentation’s in anticipation of their new 1000 litre pot stills which will be fired up over the next few weeks. These larger batches are getting significantly warmer than the 1000 litre batches. If the decision is made to step up from 2000 litre batches, cooling may well be required. All normal ferments last for between 7 to 10 days.

Dunder / Long Fermentation Batch

High Ester ferments are for a period of 21 days. The dunder in these High Ester batches is added when the cane juice is transferred to the fermentation tanks so the initial few hours of natural / wild fermentation is the same for all batches but once in the tanks, dunder is added before the commercial yeast.

Dunder / Long Fermentation Batch at the Halfway Point

Distillation

Robert has built several pot stills since starting to make rum, and he has never actually distilled anything in a still that he didn’t make himself. The lighter distillates created by Robert didn’t hold up too well to cask maturation initially and following his discovery of ‘Single Blended Rum’, but not having the required still types, Robert decided to blend heavy single pot distillates with lighter twin distilled high ABV Rums to mimic a single blended distillery output.

The Three Pot Stills

The pot stills in use at MHOBA have all been made from copper and stainless steel. Copper contact with the vapours and distillate during distillation is very important as it helps with removing sulphur containing compounds from the new make spirit. The pots, which hold and heat the fermented sugarcane batches are made from 316 stainless steel as this section of the still needs to be structurally strong to support the weight of the still and the batch of fermented sugarcane juice.

The Three Pot Stills

The pot portion of the still contains no copper as its influence submerged in the wash has almost non existent effect on the taste of the distillates that the still produces. The structural parts of the tall narrow upright necks of the stills are again fabricated from 316 stainless steel for it’s strength, ease of fabrication and resistance to corrosion.

Pot Still Temperature Display

Condenser Piping Arrangement

Within the outer stainless steel shell of the still necks is a lot of copper. The entire vapour path inside the still necks is packed with copper wool plates and pipes which they make themselves. There is significantly more copper contact in the vapour path in their stills than in a traditional copper alembic type still or even in a more modern copper bubble cap type pot still.

Condenser Assembly

Condenser Return Manifolds

Robert is a firm believer in “form follows function” and stainless steel is the natural choice for the structural components of a still as it is strong, chemically neutral in the process and is easy to cut, shape and join using conventional fabrication techniques. Copper required for its chemical influence on the distillate and it’s excellent heat transfer properties is machined to maximise its surface area and placed in the vapour path of the still where it is exposed to the rum distillate in vapour and liquid states.

Drilling Copper Spacer Plates

Drilled Copper Spacer Plates

As mentioned above and clarified with the images of the components being fabricated and assembled, there is more copper in contact with the MHOBA rum during distillation than most conventional copper stills but the copper in their stills is not visible once they are assembled.

Maturation

The Team

The maturation of MHOBA Rum occurs in a steel and galvanised sheet metal warehouse which allows the benefits of the hot humid South African climate to act upon the casks and the rum they contain. There is much talk internationally of tropical vs continental ageing in rum, MHOBA have something similar to Caribbean tropical ageing with heat and humidity except that their temperature variations are more extreme both daily and seasonally as they are not on a small island where temperatures are moderated by the surrounding ocean.

Barrel Warehouse

Robert expects to be able to accommodate around 1000 casks in their current warehouse and they will hopefully need to start building a second warehouse in the not too distant future. 

Barrel Racks

Although MHOBA are still extremely small and have only accumulated around 100 casks of which 20 are ex-American whisky casks with the remainder being European oak casks which are all ex-Cape red wine casks. Their casks are of various sizes between 200 litre Barrels and 500 litre Puncheons all of which are previously used casks and many of those are completely dismantled and refurbished by the team before being filled the rum. Their oldest cask aged rums are currently almost 2 years old. 

American Oak Ex South Africa Whisky Casks

As mentioned above, they have mostly French and American oak casks……and now one Hungarian oak barrel.

Refurbished Hungarian Oak Cask Containing MHOBA Rum

Some of the casks are left in the state they were from their previous use as they are used for secondary maturation (finishing) and other are completely dismantled and refurbished and re-toasted to get much more oak influence into the rum. When charring with hardwood coals, the cask is rotated about a foot at a time and then left for around 5 minutes before rolling another foot or so. Each cask is usually subject to 3 or 4 full rotations until desired char levels are achieved on the staves. The cask is then stood upright so that the coals char the inside of the cask head. The head that has been removed is toasted separately by using hot coals.

Barrel Charring with Hardwood Coals

Barrel Medium Toast with LPG Torch

Bottling

The bottling of MHOBA rum is very basic and entirely manual as is the rest of their rum-making process.

Hand Filled Bottling

Rums which are blended and or diluted to a specific ABV are blended in stainless steel vessels and the blend and ABV are adjusted to suit. The ABV is roughly checked using density based measurements via a Hydrometer or Digital Portable Density Meter until the blend is correct and the rum is then left to rest to allow as much sediment to precipitate and settle as possible.

Rums which are blended and / or bottled at a specific ABV are first blended in stainless steel and roughly proofed using a hydrometer

ABV Estimation Using a Density Measuring Device

The batch of rum is then filtered at ambient temperature using a stainless steel plate filter which removes the majority of solids in the batch from ageing and / or dilution and blending. The rum batch ABV is then finally adjusted and checked to be within the allowable tolerance of the stated ABV using a highly accurate alcolyzer system. The batch is then re-filtered using cotton wool plugs or filter paper and then stored in sealed glass demijohns before being poured in to the final bottles which have already been labelled.

Rum Filtering

The MHOBA cask strength rums and single batch white rums are not diluted or adjusted in any way and are bottled at the ABV at which they were maturing in cask or at the ABV at which they were distilled in the case of the Pot Stilled High Ester Rum. These rums are only filtered through a cotton wool plug before being bottled.

ABV is Finally Measured Using an Alcolyzer

Robert is unbelievably proud of the fact that so much of the final product that is produced is made by the team at the distillery. He personally designed nearly all of the labels and they print and engrave all of the labels at the distillery before applying them to the bottles.

Printing of Foil Labels is Done at the Distillery

The Premium aged rums are labelled with thin laminated bamboo which is laser engraved and cut by two laser engraving machines which run at the distillery.

Laser Engraving and Cutting of Bamboo Labels is done at the Distillery

These same rums are then packaged in individual boxes which are also cut and engraved by hand before assembling the pieces to form the final boxes.

Pure Sugarcane Happiness

MHOBA are currently producing 10 expressions. The original two of these rums are only for sale in South Africa and the remaining 8 are predominantly aimed at the export market but are also bottled in 750 ml and are available in South Africa.

Robert with the 8 expressions for export

Their rums vary greatly from light easy drinking, versatile multiple distillate, lower ABV rum right through to heavy, robust High Ester, dunder fermented rum which is bottled at distillation strengths of 60 to 70% ABV.

Export order for LMDW

Their aged rums vary considerably too with some aged only using American oak and another only in French oak casks.

Select Reserve Rums Before Being Sealed and Placed in Individual Bamboo Boxes

They are also now maturing rums which are not yet available in various other casks including Hungarian oak, once used “fresh” Bourbon casks and ex South African whisky and wine casks. The Whisky casks have been a mixture of ex-South African Grain Whisky and Malt Whisky casks, with the Malt Whisky casks having a peaty aroma. Something that I think will work very well with their distillates.

Hopefully this has been an informative read for you and my thanks goes to Robert for the time that he has spent recounting the details to me and the level of information which he has shared. There is a companion piece that will follow this article and within that I will cover each of the available MHOBA Rums that are available from LMDW.

*All images provided by Robert for use within this article have either been taken by Robert or by Sven at Phonix Capture

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flor de Caña 12 Centenario Slow Aged

Flor de Caña which translates as Sugarcane Flower from Spanish is a product from a distillery that traces its roots back in excess of 125 years.

In 1875, Alfredo Francisco Pellas Canessa, a young adventurer from Genoa, Italy traveled Nicaragua. He initially decided to operate a short and safe steam boat route through Nicaragua to transport passengers and goods from the East Coast of the US to the West Coast at the height of the California Gold Rush. This route was a success, but as news broke about the construction of the Panama Canal and the U.S. coast-to-coast railroad, Alfredo Francisco decided that it was time to change direction. In 1890, he located the setting for the Flor de Caña distillery at the base of the tallest and most active volcano in Nicaragua. The fertile soil of its surrounding lands, the water and the hot volcanic climate proved to be instrumental in forging the rum’s ethos. Since 1890 the sugarcane mill and distillery have been located in Chichigalpa, North West Nicaragua at the base of the San Cristóbal volcano.

The process continues under the supervision of the same family, 5 generations later. Through its history, the brand, the company and the family have survived a plane crash, dictatorships, civil war, nationalizations, hyperinflation, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It remains a family concern.

That’s the background marketing and tall tale out of the way…..now let’s get into the Rum.

It has to be noted that Flor de Caña have had huge issues with CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) amongst its cane field employees and the press has not been good. The whole issue sounds appalling. Apparently steps have been taken and I’ve read about investment in hospitals and a further promotion and reach for Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade Certification. There are plenty of articles online covering the CKD issue and the remedial steps taken (hopefully as a result of the issue and not as a result of the impending release of the information at the time) therefore there is no need for me to shift focus away from the product review. It cannot however just be swept under the carpet.

Flor de Caña Centenario 12 Slow Aged – 40% abv – Modern Rum

Flor de Caña as a product was first distributed by Campañia Licorera de Nicaragua SA based in Managua in 1937. As a company they pride themselves on their sustainability via their renewable energy use, their volcanic soil, climate, water supply and the fact that they claim to not utilise post distillation additions. Speaking of distillation, it is entirely multi-column distillation. Not an immediate route to a product lacking aroma and flavour. Just see Don Q for proof that the flavourless argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but it is however an indicator of a lighter style of Rum. Maturation takes place in ex-bourbon barrels that are apparently ‘sealed with Nicaraguan plantain leaves’. With reference to the large meaningless number ’12’ on the bottle, and then the also vague ‘ Slow Aged’, I have varying and slightly conflicting information. They do not utilise a solera system, which cancels that theory out. I have seen it written that a brand representative had advised someone that ‘banana leaves are put in the barrel to promote slow ageing’. I assume this would possibly hark back to the statement above regarding plantain leaves and maybe that would promote less exchange through the barrel if it is lined with these leaves therefore slowing maturation. I have also recently seen information stating that the number is an ‘average’. The 7 Slow Aged would be a blend of 5 to 9 year Rum, the 12 Slow Aged here would be a blend of 10 to 14 year old Rum as apparently they don’t exceed 2 years either side of the stated number. Whichever theory is correct, if either are, it is a large prominent number designed to mislead next to a random phrase that is totally meaningless. It works for them though as websites list it as 12 Years Old and people talk about it as a 12 Year Old Rum….and the consumer loses out yet again. I’m not a fan of designed in, purposeful ambiguity and misleading numbers. We have neither a guaranteed minimum age nor an explanation for the number on this bottle. There is also a lack of explanation on the website. For a company that has been striving for accreditation for its processes and one that is keen to highlight that it doesn’t use additions, its a shame that it doesn’t apply as much effort to its label clarity. They are however clear to point out however that this is in their ‘Ultra Premium Collection’…..whatever that is.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Very light. A touch of up front alcohol…perhaps more youth than alcohol. It’s also carrying a little sharpness. Light floral notes and freshly cut apples and grapes. Sweetness creeps in with a hint of caramel pennies. Not much action from the barrel as far as wood influence is concerned. No depth to speak of.

Mouth: Very light and unassuming entry. Not a lot of body to it. Maybe an initial flavour reminiscent of rubber balloons……a hint of caramel follows with the merest whiff of milk chocolate. A suggestion of sugared almonds….it also carries their disappointment too. Mid palate shows a bit of barrel spice and the oak does start to cut in and provide a drying quality but the lack of body and mouthfeel means that it’s short lived in both the mouth and the memory. It’s very flat. What you are left with is a thin and watered down, mildly woody experience and a really apparent and unpleasant bitterness that just grows….like biting into an unseasoned, roasted, mini unripe gourd. The very short finish is a simplistic with light oak and a touch of brown sugar. The bitterness doesn’t want to leave either and it is the only facet of the oak that dominates, or even influences to a greater extent.

1.5 / 5

It was going to be 1 / 5, but it gained an extra half mark as it would’ve been so easy to try and manipulate this product with additions, but this measured clean and doesn’t taste doctored in any way. I usually like bitter flavours. I enjoy the extreme bitterness of Korola, I always choose good quality dark chocolate and I’m also a fan of the bitterness in old demeraras, but here its just unpleasant when coupled with the rest of the lacklustre experience. It’s instantly forgettable, insipid, thin, watery boredom bottled. Price wise it is £35 in the UK, and I can think of numerous bottles not as costly, some even utilising the same distillation method, that are so much better than this rum. The nonsense number also leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That said, the ‘7 Slow Aged’ is much better than this.

*Hydrometer Test Result – Label stated abv 40% – Measured abv 39.5% – 0-5 g/l additives*

© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.