“Mhoba (Ma-Hoba) – Ingredients: passion, time, love and attention, fermented and distilled pure sugarcane juice, crystalline water, and congeners from American oak staves. Nothing else!”
I’m sick of stories. I’m fatigued by every “masterclass” run by a brand rep who spins a 15-minute yarn about the land, history, terroir, or about how important their wood is, or—wait— depending on who it is, how important their distillate is, the wood itself doesn’t matter as much. Then, to finally bring the glass in for a sniff ‘n’ sip, …and look around at other attendees to see if anyone else realises that the emperor is very much in the nude.
There is often so much chaff to sift through that I understand why many enthusiasts don’t even bother; life is too busy to dwell on the actual truth of the why’s and how’s, so it’s easier to just pick up a bottle that looks pretty and tastes decent, or to stick to what we already know.
This is why I was so blown away by this bottle. A friend had mentioned to me it was worth trying, and at around 60 euros and clocking in at 58% ABV, it seemed fair enough to make the gamble on this liquid from an unheard-of distillery in South Africa. In the worst case scenario, it would make some decent cocktail fodder. The bottle arrived all sleek and shapely, though the pessimist in me questioned whether a five-year-old brand that put much work into its looks could have spent a proportionate amount of time on its bottle’s contents.
Then I cracked the seal. Let me tell you, there are only a handful of bottles I’ve tried that immediately led me down a rabbit hole to discover just what I was drinking; this is one of them.
To me, the best stories are the ones that do not seek to be told, the bottle that commands respect, rather than demanding it. I needed to know this story, and as I sought it out, my eyes kept widening and my jaw grew slack as I read: first Steven’s well-researched overview of the brand, and next, Ivar’s mind-boggling interview with the distiller himself (speaking of which, when was the last time you actually heard of someone wearing all the hats in a distillery?).
Hand-cut organic sugar cane from a single estate, pressed and distilled on-site, with each bottle hand-filled and labelled. The owner, with a background in mechanical engineering, created his own cane-crusher and pot still from scratch. There is a series of unique bottlings, all from someone who has been distilling for less than seven years. No added sweetener, flavour, colour, or chill-filtration, just purity and transparency. If that alone doesn’t pique your interest, I hope our notes on it will.
This distillery hasn’t reached the UK at the time of writing in any significant quantities. However, Amazon does have this release available for £80.11, while The Whisky Exchange do sell the Pot Stilled White Rum for £38.75, or the Select White Rum at £56.95 if you’re interested.
Mhoba Rum Strand 101°– John’s review
Batch #2019S1; 58% ABV.
On the nose: Surprisingly soft on the nose for the 58% ABV. It hits more like a spirit with 46% to 48%. I get initial scents of grass, sugarcane juice, lemongrass syrup, toffee, cinnamon and chocolate, which remind me of the Neisson Vieux. Then I get some cloves, cacao nibs, pimento dram and peppers which remind me of aged Worthy Park rum. I also get rotten pineapples, butterscotch, orange peel and brandied cherry; these are notes I also get in other Jamaican rum like Hampden and Long Pond.
In the mouth: The order of things I taste are similar to the nose. Bits of grass, sugarcane juice, lemongrass syrup, toffee, cinnamon and chocolate. I get a bit more bitterness; this makes me think of burnt caramel. Then there are the Worthy Park tastes again. Cacao nibs, pimento dram, cloves, toffee and oranges. There’s the brandied cherries, butterscotch, nuts, more cacao nibs and orange peel.
I wish I had bought more of this. It tastes like the love child of Neisson and Worthy Park! This shows no false promises, as it gives the same delivery on the nose and in the mouth. I’ve never had something aged in a glass cask and something quite young (a blend of two-year-old rum blended with unaged, high-ester rum). I would have given this a seven, but I’m adding one more point because the price makes this so damn worth it. It’s really amazing how young this distillery is, but they’re putting out really delicious stuff. I haven’t heard a negative thing about them.
Not only does the youth of the distillery astound me, but also the quality Mhoba puts out. It is especially amazing if you remember that South Africa doesn’t have a strong rum distilling culture, yet this beats out the rum of countries with a more established cultures, and also that of companies with bigger budgets.
I recall hearing that this might have been made for the cocktail crowd, as there isn’t much high-proof, sugarcane juice-based rum in the market. I definitely see the inspiration from Haus Alpenz’s Smith & Cross in this bottle: beyond the parallel blue and gold embellishment, as it’s high ABV, with a funky profile that works well as both a sipper and mixer. This is something for lovers of dirty distillate like Mortlach, Edradour and Clynelish. The wood influence takes on a mere supporting role, while most of the flavors here come from the blend of distillates.
Mhoba Rum Strand 101°– Reuben’s review
Batch #2019S2; 58% ABV.
Colour: Amber, with some flashes of Verdigris (the green patina that develops over time on weather copper).
On the nose: Fresh sugar cane juice, immediately followed by an unholy funk; it’s Pandora’s box shaped into a bottle. Hot, melted caramel and a carton of fermented pineapple juice you forgot in the back of your fridge emerge alongside lots of olive brine. Nuanced aromas of dried apricot, orange peel, and cloves come through, too, as well as lemon meringue pie; to be specific, the sweet lemon curd in the centre.
In the mouth: Feels like the crunch of a fresh hunk of sugar cane between your teeth, then it gets hot, sweet, and sharp; the hot caramel on the nose has come straight out of the pan and onto my tongue, along with some thick jungle vegetation, like chewing through a pineapple frond. The spirit goes down with a slight bitterness and some wood tannin, which leaves my mouth feeling like a dank, tropical greenhouse.
If I had to compare this to another rum, I would say this feels like a cross between a high-ester Hampden and some woody rhum agricole; this will take most super-heavily peated whisky out back and send it home crying with a black eye and a snotty nose (I just poured some Octomore 7.3 to prove to myself I wasn’t lying).
Someone needs to explain to me how it took one man about six years to make a spirit of this quality from scratch, yet we have in our midst, distilleries with more money, heritage, and clout, who put out simplistic cookie-cutter expressions. I guess that’s what happens when a brand grows: the main focus becomes being as inoffensive as possible, so as to not disturb their precarious position at the top.
My advice? Just buy this, take it to your friend’s house the next time you get together, and plop it on the table. It will bring any conversation to a halt. It will be the star of the show, no matter the spirit category. It will cause the blind to see and the lame to walk. No, not quite, but you get the point. Is it elegant, and super-refined? No, but I would argue there is beauty in the untamed beast found in this bottle. I was going to rate it a point less, but for the potential it has in mixing and just for the sheer enjoyment of the thing, I settled on the score below.
I’m incredibly excited to follow the leaps and bounds made by this young brand doing big things.
Images kindly provided by Mhoba. And there are commission links in this review should you decide to support Malt by using them.