And ‘no’ – that’s not a description of TheFloatingRumShack.com – it’s the Blanc, Ambré and Hors d’âge agricole rhums that form the Rhum St Barth portfolio. A collection of vibrant and wonderfully tasty rhums that are now available in the UK thanks to a recent distribution deal with independent spirits specialists: Distillnation.
Brand owners Severine and Mikael Silvestre have “COOL”: a 50% ABV Blanc (white) agricole rhum which is all fresh, earthy, vegetative flavours and aromas – a traditional agricole made from hand cut and pressed sugar cane, grown locally on near by Guadaloupe. When it leaves the column still, the rhum agricole is 60% to 70% alcohol by volume , crystal clear and very aromatic. It is stored for 12-months in stainless steel vats, and the alcohol content is gradually bought down to bottle strength. This period of resting allows the spirit to develop into a smooth and very drinkable rhum.
The bottle doesn’t display an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) stamp – it’s unencumbered by such tight controls – but it’s safe to say that this is unmistakably an agricole rhum. So whilst COOL may have rested for year, it’s not really an aged rhum as it’s had no interaction with oak. To experience that, you must move up to CHIC… But perhaps you might enjoy a Ti’ Punch or two before you do as COOL is perfect for this, although you may consider this a little extravagant – but more of that later.
The amber “CHIC” rhum is aged in re-charred bourbon barrels for four years. According to the brand “CHIC was developed for the ‘next level’ of rhum drinker. At 40% ABV it is a lot more palatable and flexible in its recommended serving suggestions.” They go on to say “CHIC is smooth on the palette, then after savouring – the Bourbon begins to come through and warm the back of the throat. The sweetness in the Bourbon finish makes this variety easier to taste, particularly for a female drinker.”
As I’ve been writing this article I’ve been enjoying a large glass (or two) of CHIC – it’s got all the characteristics of an aged agricole, but presented in a smoother, easier, more drinkable format. This really is a pleasure to sip – undemanding of the drinker, but very rewarding in the experience.
It’s a well know fact for students of r(h)um, that four years of Caribbean aging tends to present more character than the low sounding number might suggest to the uninitiated. But what if you want “old” rhum? Well for that you need to move to “AUTHENTIQUE”.
Twelve years in oak develops the spirit in truly amazing ways. Quite rightly the “Crown Jewel” of the range – it’s absolutely amazing! But pleased as I am to have got my hands on a miniature of AUTHENTIQUE, the experience is a little bittersweet – I can’t afford one of the 2,000 individually numbered bottles that represent the extents of the release and so I’m looking at the empty glass, wishing for more…
Hoping for a miracle…
Anyway… it was very good while it lasted.
I’m told that the UK’s allocation was snapped up straight away (and I’m not surprised), probably making this the easiest sales of Distillnation’s trading career – but the interest in this rhum is such that they are looking to secure a further quantity for the UK. I’ve got my fingers crossed that they succeed in this regard. This Hors d’âge rhum is gorgeous – a fabulous drinking experience.
We first encountered these agricole rhums at RumFest 2011 and whilst highly impressed by the flavours, I must confess I was a little concerned the price tag might make things difficult – not because they weren’t worth the money – but mostly because I’m not really sure the UK is ready for agricole rhum, least of all a pricy one. My viewpoint on the latter may have changed a little of late – the last year has seen us attend a number of agricole themed educational events and we’ve certainly tried some fabulous expressions along the way. But (and let’s face it: it’s a big but), £47 for the COOL Blanc, £93 for the CHIC Ambré and £733 for the Hors d’âge AUTHENTIQUE [All at Master of Malt], does put this rhum well above the average price brackets. And the reason I’ve not featured Rhum St Barth before is because I’ve struggled with this dichotomy. I like my r(h)um to be exciting, tasty and affordable – in this case what could possibly justify the price tag?
Without viewing first hand, I’m rather relying on “marketing” information – but when you view the manufacturing set up on Saint Barth, you get the impression that it’s very small scale (it’s certainly not a big island) and therefore very hands on. A team of experienced, knowledgeable people whom have treated their rhums with all due care and attention. This is the beginning of the value proposition. The website tells us “Rhum St Barth is of premium hand-made quality: from cutting the sugarcane, distilling, tasting during the aging process through to the final wax seal, each step along the way is carried out by dedicated, expert craftspeople”. I think represents a fairly unique proposition in comparison to the mass market produced rums in the same way that perhaps an Aston Martin compares to a Ford Focus. Both get you around town, but secretly you know what you’d prefer as the Aston would say so much more about you. I’ve steered away from stating the obvious about the well known football aspect of Mikael Silvestre, but you know his rich football buddies would think nothing of splashing the cash on a bottle of AUTHENTIQUE on a night out. I just hope they don’t mix it with coke…
The style, brand presentation and packing is exemplary. Following the route of “less is more” – the bottles are simple, elegant and resplendent with the touches such as the wax seal on the front of the bottle and encapsulation of the cork stopper. In the case of the Ambré – the text on the clear background labels are almost so subtly coloured as to be rendered invisible. My sample bottle of Ambré is just that (a sample) and so comes without HMRC’s pink “tramp stamp” thus maintaining the perfection that I image the product designer longed to achieve. The Ambré is the most subtly styled package – the Hors d’âge a little bolder with its gold logo and black wax application (both of which compliment the colour of the liquid in the bottle) and comes in a beautiful wooden presentation case which lifts the experience and sense of value added. The Blanc is the strongest presentation, but the package suits the contents – vibrant and exciting. A shared family styling keeps an important sense of unity and forward planning.
Truth be told, I might find it difficult spending £40+ on a bottle of unaged agricole, i.e.; COOL – but I’m completely happy to state it’s a fantastic product. The CHIC is certainly a premium product - actually a closer fit to the price tag and something that were I a little richer, I could see myself buying. The gorgeous AUTHENTIQUE though is the star of the range, but at nearly £800 represents a seriously large outlay. If £800 was a sum of money I would be comfortable spending without thinking “I could be going on holiday with this cash” – then I would certainly buy a bottle. I suspect the rhum wouldn’t last very long – probably a lot less time that the holiday would…
Oh – and the one thing I really like on the bottle that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else… the legend: French West Indies. Love it! Very evocative.
COOL: The flavours are light – hints of citrus with a taste of vegetation and damp earthy flavours. Rhum St Barth Blanc is slightly oily on the palate so the flavours linger for a little longer. [50%ABV]
CHIC: It is distinguished by the richer vanilla tones, spices and caramel notes. Ideally, this product can be served with good quality ingredients in a cocktail, or as an aperitif. A ti punch, R. St Barth’s perfect serve, is slightly sweeter with CHIC. [40%ABV]
AUTHENTIQUE: Rich and full, with flavours of plum, cherry, spices, liquorice, vanilla, hints of chocolate and caramel with a slightly smoky finish. The flavours savour on the palate for a long-lasting finish. AUTHENTIQUE is ideally enjoyed neat, though could be an ideal substitute in classic cocktails such as an Old Fashioned. [43%ABV]
Rum Databank: Rhum St Barth
Country of origin: Saint Barth / St. Barts
Age: Up to 12 years
Cost: Up to £733 for AUTHENTIQUE
[Under £15 = £ / £15 to £25 = ££ / £25 to £40 = £££ / £40 to £100 = ££££ / Over £100 = £££££]
Other Related Info: Mikael Silvestre (need I say more?)
Available From: Master of Malt http://www.masterofmalt.com/
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