I can’t believe September is just around the corner. In the Philippines, it usually just means the holidays are within reach. The malls here start putting up their Christmas decor and start playing Christmas music. But for this year, September also marks my first whole year of being a Malt contributor.

Time flies by faster the older I get. So, I can’t believe that it’s already been a year. I also can’t believe this will be my first review to feature a proper Agricole rhum. I should be slapping myself as Rhum JM VSOP is one of the earlier rums I had which made me take a deep dive into it. Some readers who pay attention to Malt’s rum reviews may wonder what I’m talking about. As I’ve already reviewed sugarcane juice-based rum-like St. George’s and Issan’s. But despite being cane juice-based, both can’t be called Agricole rhum. I’ll try my best to explain why.

For a bit of a background, Asia has been one of the new rum producing hot spots for a few years now. You have small and lesser-known quality producers like Japan’s Nine Leaves and Thailand’s Chalong Bay who are known in the EU but have been flying under the radar. With rum being pegged as the next big spirit, Asian rum has been put under the spotlight. Which really makes sense, as sugarcane easily grows in Asia.

Among this wave of new Asian rum are a few French distillers who started making sugarcane juice-based rum. You have Chalong Bay and Issan in Thailand. There are also Rhum Mia and Sampan from Vietnam. However, some of these have been mistakenly referred to as Agricoles.

You see, Agricole is a protected term. The way I see it, people who are new to rum call every sugarcane juice-based rum Agricole rum just like less knowledgeable wine drinkers call every sparkling wine champagne. I still don’t completely understand the whole concept yet. But the term Agricole, according to more learned rum industry folks, does not only refer to a style or a process of rum making or certain territories. It refers to a place’s cultural identity as well.

There’s a misconception that only French territories in the French Caribbean can use it. Martinique, Guadalupe and Marie Galante are the ones that easily come to mind. But African islands like Reunion Island, which is under France, and Madeira (despite being under the Portuguese) can also use this term. This same misconception brings about the question why can’t sugarcane juice-based rum from former French colonies like Vietnam use the term. The answer is already above. As far as I know, sugarcane juice-based rum is only recent in Asia. I’d love to be proven wrong on this.

I’d like to add that among the territories that can use the term Agricole, only Martinique has an AOC. I’ll talk about this in more detail for my next Martinique Agricole rhum review. For now, I’m going to shed some light on what most think is, and I agree on this, the best Agricole producer on Martinique.

Neisson’s website is still a work in progress so I’ll have to rely on other sources. According to The Fat Rum Pirate, Distillerie Neisson or Thieubert-Carbet was set up in 1931. It is situated in the Le Carbet area of the island on the North-Caribbean coastline, which is sadly the only distillery still operating in the area. Neisson harvests the sugarcane for their rhums between late February and June.

Ed Hamilton of Hamilton Rum is the importer of Neisson in the United States. His website, the Ministry of Rum, says that the superior quality of their rum is a result of meticulous attention to detail from the sugarcane selection through cultivation, cane cutting and getting them into the cane mill to fermentation within less than a few hours. Fermentation in Neisson takes place in stainless steel tanks using a proprietary yeast strain cultivated from natural yeast propagated in France by a champagne yeast maker. The grandson of the founder, Gregory Neisson, is said to monitor every drop of this rhum. It is distilled to about 72% abv in their modified Savalle stills.

This Neisson is said to be a blend of rum aged three to nine years in French oak and ex-bourbon casks, bottled at 45% ABV. Vieux in French spirits is, I think, an indicator of at least three years old. This was released to celebrate the distillery’s 85th anniversary. But I don’t think this is a limited edition.

Neisson Le Rhum Vieux – review

Color: amber.

On the nose: A very expressive rhum at the get-go. I get hints of grassiness that gives way to an exquisite and slightly sharp, but welcome, mix of vanilla, cinnamon, sandpaper, coconut husk, lemongrass syrup, hints of charred wood and muscovado syrup. At the end are bits of tart cherry syrup and tobacco. The grassy scent appears again but this time lasts longer and ends with a lightly roasted coffee scent.

In the mouth: Very expressive like on the nose. The charred wood is more upfront and is accompanied by bits of cinnamon, vanilla, muscovado syrup and tobacco. After a bit more swirling in the mouth, I get a lingering and savory mix of dark chocolate, mocha and lemongrass syrup. I get more taste of tobacco at the end but is followed by something tart which makes me think of raisins and figs.

Conclusions

I remember being surprised and happy upon finding this in Ho Chi Minh for $70. I think this is an absolutely great deal as Neisson isn’t really easy to find. I guess you could call this a Springbank of sorts as only the ones in the know go after any of the two. I really can’t think of anything to complain about this. It’s packed full of flavor. It’s enticing on the nose. There’s enough complexity in it without sacrificing anything. What you get on the nose is what you get in the mouth.

There is something about the combination of French Oak and Agricole rhum. But it’s an unexpected match made in heaven. I have consistently picked up these flavors of savory lemongrass syrup, chocolate and coffee in other aged Agricole rhum like Bielle’s. I have a nagging feeling that Agricole aged in French Oak will be a true rum enthusiast’s fetish once rum becomes more famous. I’d definitely buy this again. This also makes me want to explore more of Neisson’s range.

Score: 8/10

CategoriesRum
John
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Avatar
    Apple Wino says:

    Thanks for the review on Neisson. I have only tasted the Élevé Sous Bois. Unfortunately, I bought it at the same time as a bottle of Hampden Estate so it took me a while to appreciate the subtleties of the Neisson in comparison to the congener overload of the Hampden.

    There is an article from Saveur magazine on Ed Hamilton that has a lot of great information about Neisson. Definitely worth a read.
    http://www.saveur.com/rum-taster-in-the-caribbean/

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Apple, thanks for the comment. I haven’t had the Eleve Sous Bois but I hear good things about it. Yeah, Hampden will do that to you. I think it’s worth it though as Hampden is excellent stuff.

      Yes, I’ve read this article before but I’ll read it again. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Avatar
    Ricky says:

    Would you do the favor to illustrate the merit of Neisson over Saint James/Troi Rivieres/JM? I have tried pretty many Neissons including this one and 12 ans, never find out why so many blogs are into it.

  3. John
    John says:

    Hi Ricky, from what I know and can tell, Neisson doesn’t make a lot of volume. The quantity exported to a big market like the US isn’t even a lot. To me that means they’re picky with the sugarcane they use.

    St. James is more of a volume producer. Don’t get me wrong, they still make good stuff but the lot of the rhum they sell are on the very affordable side.

    I haven’t had a lot of Trois Rivieres but I liked the ones I had. My issue with Trois Rivieries is they don’t have their own distillery. They contract someone else to distill their rhum and I think that affects the quality of their product. I’m curious how that quality will change since they were recently bought by Campari.

    I think JM is the next best Martinique Rhum Agricole. I’ve tried their basic line up which are the Blanc 50%, VO, VSOP and XO. I still rank the Neisson Vieux higher than the XO. I even like this Neisson better than the JM Millesimes I’ve had. Why? I can’t really say. I just like the flavor of Neisson better. There’s just something about agricole and french oak interaction that speaks to me. Maybe Neisson has the best terroir for cane? Something about their fermentation? Their barrel program? Maybe one could say Neisson terroir is the Grand Champagne of all Martinique?

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