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 Empery – Single Blended Rum

The Foursquare Rum Distillery Bottling Facility

Firstly, I know that readers of this page have previously indulged me by reading my previous articles about Foursquare Rum Distillery……but for anyone new to the site, I have covered releases from Foursquare Rum Distillery quite extensively on these pages and you can either put your own search in the “search box” or click here to read a little more about them. A little earlier this year we were fortunate enough (but our wallets were not) to be blessed with a flurry of releases from Foursquare Rum Distillery. The new Exceptional Cask Selection marques IX and X, Empery and 2007 were joined by the surprise Private Cask Selection Whisky Exchange exclusive which was Hereditas. Our wallets were also even further depleted by the Velier distributed Foursquare Patrimonio. A further surprise was that three out of those four releases were ex-Oloroso Sherry & ex-bourbon barrel matured. The BIGGEST surprise however was that each of the three releases was 14 years old and each had seen a mix of 14 years in ex bourbon and 10 years maturation in ex-bourbon barrels before a further 4 years maturation in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels. Surely Foursquare had just released the same Rum under three separate names with differing labels? Why even bother to do this? Well, this series of releases in a lesson in blend ratios, cask management and the effects of barrels with differing histories. Refresh yourselves with a look at my reviews of Hereditas and Patrimonio linked above and then come back to read further about Empery. Empery has also been written about by my friends over at thefatrumpirate and Rum Revelations and both are worth a look….obviously after you’ve read the review below.

Bonded Warehouse No. 2 at Foursquare Rum Distillery

Foursquare Empery – 56% abv – Single Blended Rum

Bottled in December 2018, Foursquare Empery 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 56% abv. No colour. No chill filtration. No nonsense.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Straight away the Rum announces itself with plenty of wood on the nose. Big, bold, damp old wood. It’s a nose that immediately hints towards plenty of complexity to come. It doesn’t shun the familiar either as this is clearly Barbados in character, just bringing a little more to the table. Fruit is definitely present and accounted for….raisins and sharp dark berry compote hint to the time in oloroso barrels but less so than Hereditas which is a “Sherry-bomb”. The oak binds itself to a little chocolate and walnut…perhaps reminiscent of old school walnut whips (before they became smaller and when they contained more marshmallow)….Vanilla is certainly present as is some barrel spice, crystallised ginger and warm orange peel but they sit behind a growing black cherry note bringing with it the chocolate sponge of a Black Forest gateau. A little beeswax sits on the back end with the continued warmth of the fruity perfumed oak. It is such an approachable glass of Rum that opens up very well in a very short space of time.

Mouth: Warming, slightly spicy and with minimal heat and fuss…this again is a big mouthful of action with plenty of grip. Less fruit than the nose led me to believe initially but it comes. Time brings a little sweetness and a tart black currant jam. Raisins and molasses. Sherried notes are there but the wood is more dominant bringing dark chocolate. The mid palate is all about the depth of oak. Woody, very drying and bringing a fair bit of spice such as black pepper and fiery ginger…..maybe even some leather and tobacco notes. Toasted coconut. Along with this comes a little bitterness from the oak but it’s not out of place. The long warming finish brings quite a lot of wet wood, spice and ginger heat before the berries, bitter molasses and raisins come through. A little sweetness begins to return at the back end. It’s very rich and velvety…Cadbury’s Bournville chocolate with fruit and nuts…..a hint of coconut. The barrel and the fruit are quite well balanced here and it’s complexity and enjoyment relies upon this balance….it can tip towards a little arid at times but it never falls off that cliff.

In conclusion: On the nose I genuinely believe that Empery is my favourite of the Oloroso trio that includes Hereditas and Patrimonio. If Patrimonio is defined by wood and Hereditas is defined by the Sherry notes, Empery is a perfect blend of both. On the palate it also seems to be the more balanced of the three and it feels a little lighter in blend make up, perhaps less pot still, I don’t know. It definitely drinks the easiest of the three as the bottle count will show. I’m two in on Empery and one in on Hereditas and Patrimonio.

What this series of three releases have shown us is that whilst on the surface things may be the same….maturation time, cask type, batch and continuous blend….in reality the ratios of batch and continuous, the prior history of the barrels and 2% difference in abv can produce such varying end results. It’s perhaps a lesson in looking deeper and further than the label alone. I genuinely thought that I wasn’t a sherry guy and didn’t need a cupboard full of the “same” rum…..how wrong I was. If Hereditas is the sherry bomb, and Patrimonio is the oily, barrel driven Rum that plays the long rewarding game then that makes Empery the quick out of the blocks crowd pleasing structure that spans the two camps. Approachable yet complex and rewarding. It’s also the least expensive of the three. Patrimonio just shades it….but only just.

4.5 / 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.

A GI for Barbados Rum

I awoke this morning to more informative text from Richard Seale regarding the Barbados GI. I had previously posted regarding the Barbados GI here. Below in full is the information that I awoke to this morning addressing key points and presenting the agreed position of Mount Gay, St Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare.

A GI for Barbados Rum

A GI is intended to:

– protect the name of Barbados Rum in export markets by having the standards applied at home recognised in those markets.
– codify those standards so that they will be maintained to protect the reputation of Barbados Rum
– link the essential characteristics of Barbados Rum to its geographical origin.

The latter sometimes causes confusion. There are two types of GI – A PDO like AOC Martinique Agricole which absolutely requires the sugar cane grown in Martinique or a PGI like Scotch Whisky which allows imported grain but demands other ties to the geography e.g. water and climate of aging.

The geographical link also provides the economic motive behind establishing a GI – to ensure the economic return from a product is earned within the region.

Attached is the unified position of Mount Gay, St Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare. We have worked carefully together and given our inputs to the local authority. Not everything here is in latest draft but we are confident in our work being recognised. It has been a joy to work with the team from Mount Gay and Larry from St Nicholas Abbey.

Also attached are the relevant clauses from the EU regulations. This shows that it is an indispensable requirement of registration that essential characteristics of the product be derived from its geographical origin.

I think it is unfortunate (and disrespectful of the local authorities) that the draft GI has been subjected to criticism in front of foreign audiences. Once you understand the position of MG/SNA/FS in the context of the meaning of a GI and its registration requirements, you will see the criticism is disingenuous, misleading and self-serving.

YEAST
Yeast is not restricted to Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. The exogenous ADDITION is restricted to Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. Not that this is much of a restriction – 99%+ of all wines and spirits out there are made from the thousands of available strains of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. All native yeasts are in fact allowed. This includes several species besides Saccharomyces Cerevisiae.

It is important to understand the history behind this. Until the modern era, all rum fermentations proceeded exclusively from native yeasts. The addition of exogenous yeast brought efficiency and flavour control at the expense of aromatic diversity. That horse has bolted, added yeast is here to stay. But restricting non Saccharomyces yeast to native yeasts we are preserving a link to our geography and to our history.

WATER
It is imperative in order to maintain the link between Barbados Rum and its Geography that water is restricted to Barbados Water. It is also easy to understand if you know our history. Barbados was able to dominate early sugar and rum making because of our access to water compared to our volcanic neighbours. I have attached a perspective from Mount Gay on the issue.

STILLS
There is no restriction on stills in the Barbados GI. All batch and continuous stills are allowed. Distillation proof is restricted to 95% abv and copper must be used. *(Note the chamber still referred to in the counter arguments. Batch and Continuous is the language used, not Pot and Column)*RDB

SUGAR
Sugar is not added by any Barbados blender. No indigenous brand uses addition of sugar. In fact in a world of sweetened rum, indigenous Barbados Rums stand out for not using sugar syrup. A GI must reflect that. Adding sugar to Barbados rum weakens the diversity of rum.

CARAMEL
Caramel (e150a) has been used in Barbados rum for as long as anyone knows. It was not used to deceive people. Most Barbados Rum was sold unaged – “white rum” or “coloured rum” at the same price. So the GI allows caramel but with some constraints to avoid abuse.

AGING
Aging provides arguably the most essential characteristic of Barbados Rum in export markets. It would be ludicrous to CERTIFY a rum as Barbados Rum where one of the most influential stages of production takes place outside of Barbados. It is also the stage where the most of the value is added. It would be equally ludicrous to CERTIFY a product as from Barbados where most of the value is earned outside of Barbados.

OAK
This is more about protecting the reputation than geography. Until now the reputation of aged Barbados Rum has been derived from aging solely in oak. A GI is about protecting reputation not leaving it to the mercy of experiments. Our position has been cleverly crafted. We can venture outside of oak when it is proven. To simply allow “wooden casks” is unacceptable. The myriad of possibilities from oak is almost limitless. In practical terms this is no restriction at all.

A GI which allows a purported ‘Barbados Rum’ be made from imported molasses, non native yeasts, non native water and aged in another country is a farce and would never meet the requirements of registration.

It should be well noted that a GI does not prevent non compliant Rum being made in Barbados. Article 14 (attached) contemplates that in the modern era stages of production may take place in different regions. A rum distilled in Barbados that meets the basic EU standard is still legal to sell as rum. And if it is aged in France and has special sugar syrup (made with French know-how) added, it is no longer a certified Barbados Rum but it is entirely legal and appropriate if it is called French Rum.

Every distiller wants to make the best they can but when the inputs are no longer Barbados inputs (or Barbados traditions) – it moves from away from being a Barbados Rum to being a Rum.

This is a “restriction” that holds no fear for a Barbados born distiller or blender.

The Unified Position of Mount Gay, St Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare Rum Distillery

Clauses from the EU regulations demonstrating that it is an indispensable requirement of registration that essential characteristics of the product be derived from its geographical origin

Counter Argument Criticism of the GI Proposals

Information Presented by Mount Gay

Article 14 contemplates that in the modern era, stages of production may take place in different regions

All eyes are on the progression of this fundamental and vital weapon in the arsenal of the Barbadian producers to protect their heritage.

© 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

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.

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 – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum – Part 1

I shared a rather large article a short while ago and it comprehensively told the story and explained some of the processes behind the creation of MHOBA Rum. You can find a link to it here. Right….if you went down that rabbit hole it’ll be a short while later and you’ll either be enthused to find out more about MHOBA Rum given how personal and hands on the creation of the Rum is…or complaining that you’ll never get that time back…..I’m hoping that it’s the former given the effort spent and time devoted by Robert to inform the article….but as a drinker I totally understand the latter. So I’ll assume that you’re enthused and keen to find out more. This review will be split into two and I will look to cover the Unaged and Flavoured releases in Part 1, and that encompasses 4 products.

They are:

MHOBA Pot Stilled White

MHOBA Select Pot Stilled White

MHOBA Pot Stilled High Ester

MHOBA Franky’s Pineapple

All of the distillates start off with the freshly pressed sugarcane juice extracted from the sugarcane varieties N57 or N36. This begins fermentation almost immediately as it is pressed due to the naturally present yeast. Following transfer of the juice to their 2000 litre fermentation vats, the fermentation processes split dependent upon the end product to be created…..High Ester long ferment or standard length ferment.

MHOBA Pot Stilled White – 43% abv – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum

This Rum utilises a 7 to 10 day fermentation period using standard bakers yeast. The fermentation is not temperature controlled. Distillation occurs on the handmade pot stills and the resultant distillate is chosen, reduced in abv using local pure crystalline water prior to bottling by hand.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Bright. Fresh. Vibrant notes of freshly cut cane. Plenty of plastic notes. Acetone. Furniture polish. Model Glue. Creamy with a hint of menthol.

Mouth: Initial sweet and creamy entry. Reminiscent of slightly sweet freshly whipped cream. Cane notes creep into the mid palate along with a herbal quality. The finish brings fresh cane, cream, light brine and plastic.

Its a functional and versatile offering. Makes a decent Daiquiri or Ti Punch.

3 / 5

MHOBA Select Pot Stilled White – 58% abv – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum

This Rum is the result of the 7 to 10 day fermentation period using bakers yeast and sugarcane variety N57, this blend is slightly different though. The new make spirit at MHOBA is collected in small separate fractions (cuts) and this blend is adjudged to comprise the best cuts taken over the period listed on the front label. In this case the batch number is 2018SR1 with a collection period of July to September 2018.

Tasting Notes

Nose: This builds upon the foundation of the Pot Stilled White with vibrant sugarcane at its core, and adds layers of complexity. It becomes increasingly vegetal. Earthy notes of turmeric and saffron. Quite a herbal quality too. Bright acetone notes sit atop well cooked root vegetables. Powdered sugar. The hint of fresh fruit.

Mouth: A sweet and bitter quality on first sip. Roasted root vegetables and light white pepper. The bitterness is reminiscent of bitter gourds such as Korola. A robust mouthfeel. Deep sugarcane flavours develop on the mid palate bringing menthol and a hint of apricot. The finish brings tinned apricots and fresh cream with classic Agricole notes of grassy cane.

This really does offer up plenty to enjoy as an unaged Rum. It is flavourful and offers a robust depth that matches a lot of established and well respected sugarcane juice Rums and Rhums. Probably my favourite in the unaged line up and just about as good as it gets insofar as the balance of aroma and flavour is concerned. Makes a great Fish House Punch.

4.5 / 5

MHOBA Pot Stilled High Ester White – 78% abv – Pure Single Sugarcane Rum

Note that later batches are at differing, lower abv levels but the release reviewed is Batch number 2018 HE1 using sugarcane variety N57 from the September 2018 harvest and is bottled at 78%. The initial small period of wild yeast fermentation that is present in all batches is then boosted in the fermentation tanks with the addition of dunder prior to the commercial yeast. It is presented in its straight from the still form.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Far more approachable than you’d expect for a product that has a 21 day fermentation period utilising dunder. This is the sum of everything that preceded it and so much more. Very grassy, cane driven nose initially. Unmistakably Agricole like with vegetal notes but completely recognisable as a heavy pot still product. It steps foot in Jamaican funk territory. Olives. Brine. Acetone. Fresh tropical fruit. Layers upon layers. Starfruit. Guava. Ripe mango. Boiled fruit sweets. Sweet cane and the perfumed aroma of small wild strawberries. Fermenting fruit. Furniture polish, solvent glue and black pepper.

Mouth: A full and encompassing, oily mouthfeel. This is a big rum. A lot of heat in the initial exchanges. This rum has more of an obvious earthy and savoury quality on the palate. Spiced pumpkin soup. Black pepper. Turmeric. Mustard oil. The mid palate brings a return of the fresh vibrant cane. All encompassing, the rum dominates your palate. Grilled tropical fruit. Fruit leathers. Strawberries and cream. Brine. Salty preserved lemons. Citrus oils. Eucalyptus. The finish has real length and is initially peppery, with black olive tapenade and the sweetness of liquorice root.

A real exercise in crazy. Its an absolute monster and can get away from you initially. Its an all encompassing sensory assault but once you are acclimatised it allows you to access a little more nuance. Its like a cross between the A1710 La Perle Brute and Savanna Lontan. High Ester with a lot of bright acidity and fruit plus that solid base of accessible pot still backbone that the A1710 possesses. I can’t drink too much of it in one sitting but it definitely warrants your attention.

4 / 5

MHOBA Franky’s Pineapple – 43% abv – Flavoured Rum

At its base is the Glass Cask Aged Rum along with a blend of two differing unaged Pot Still Rums. These are infused separately with ripe and fresh Natal Queen pineapples that have been seared….the infusions are then blended to produce Franky’s Pineapple. Pineapple seems to be the big thing as far as flavouring Rums go at the moment and there are a fair few available. Stiggin’s seemed to have started it but the door did not close. This should be an interesting prospect as I know of only one other sugarcane juice Rum flavoured / infused with Pineapple.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Full on pineapple sweetness up front. Initially freshly cut pineapple but there’s greater depth. An almost charred, bbq pineapple with caramelised syrup and a hint of smoke. Hints of grassy cane spike through the sweetness almost like a Rhum arrangé.

Mouth: Entry is not as sweet as the nose would suggest. The influence of young wood appears initially on the palate and this then develops into bbq pineapple. A light but sweet pineapple sponge cake. Warming mid palate with hints of charred fruit. Quite an earthy note is present. The relatively short finish brings more pineapple sponge cake with a drizzle of fresh cream. This is very much an infusion rather than a sweetened pineapple rum, and it is all the better for it.

I have used it in Pineapple Daiquiris and also in a Pina Colada and it does exactly what you want it to do.

3 / 5

If you’ve not tried anything from MHOBA as yet, you really should seek them out. Availability is growing and I now know of two outlets with Europe wide shipping and one that definitely ships to the USA. All very different, all have their own character and personality. If you were to buy only one it would for me be a toss up between the Green Label Select and the Red Label High Ester……it depends what kind of experience you are after. I like the occasional high ester offering but prefer steady drinkers and for that reason the Select is my go to.

So, that’s Part 1 over. Next up will be the Aged products. Glass Cask, American Oak, Strand’s 101 and the majestic French Oak.

For availability click the link to Richard Blesgraaf’s online store in the right hand panel or visit LMDW.

© 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.