Duality. An instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts, or two aspects of something. I think this is an interesting concept all of us encounter regularly, but don’t recognize or think of. The most well-known examples of this would be the two sides of a coin with heads & tails. Yin & Yang is the balance of light and dark. There’s also the Baphomet, which is composed of both male & female, up & down and man & animal. When it comes to spirits, I think rum is the most dual of them all.
I‘m referring to rum’s duality in regards to the black and white perception of aged vs unaged spirits. Within exist a couple of misleading stereotypes. One example is an unaged, or clear spirit, is automatically assumed to be flavorless. Thus, being looked down upon when compared to aged or colored spirits, which are almost always perceived as better, regardless of the production process it underwent. Amongst aged or colored spirits, there’s also the misconception that the darker spirit is usually better. Or the darker coloration, at least, makes its potential drinker more excited.
However, the more a drinker learns of the more technical aspects of spirits production, the more they learn that spirits aren’t so black and white. One eventually learns that a white or unaged spirit doesn’t need to be aged to have flavor. Flavor comes from patient fermentation and quality distillation. The best examples would be unaged Jamaican rum and traditional Mezcal. A lot of these are usually fermented with wild yeast for more than two days and pot (or batch) distilled. This is me severely simplifying things of course. You get grassy and funky blanc agricoles fermented with cultured yeast and distilled in traditional column stills. The flavorless or neutral spirits we have come to associate with unaged or white spirits is vodka. But vodka, aka overpriced and heavily marketed alcoholic water, is only neutral in character because it was distilled in multi-column stills. In some ways, it is true that vodka is pure alcohol. Neutral spirits are known to be distilled in multi-column stills and these industrial stills tend to distill a spirit over 95% abv. This strips it of everything such as congeners, which are flavor giving compounds, and leave only ethanol.
I’ve considered agave spirits such as Tequila and Mezcal for this. They can absolutely qualify here, but rum is still more qualified. While unaged traditional Tequila and Mezcal are delicious, the culture of aging them in oak casks is still relatively new when compared to the long and vast history of spirits.
I have also considered brandy, but the French brandies all need to be aged to be called what they are. For example, the minimum age for Cognac is two years. Other types of brandy such as Peruvian Pisco are not allowed to be aged. I’ve come across American eaux-de-vie but they’re not that well known outside of the geezer markets. I also haven’t seen the aged versions from these eaux-de-vie producers and vice-versa.
Of course, whisk(e)y is out of the question. This is the category that surprised the less educated drinkers. A lot still don’t know all spirits, even glorious whisky, leave the still looking like vodka. While millions of liters of new make are distilled every day, their availability in the market is close to zero. Most of the new make one finds in the market come from new distilleries trying to make some profit while their stocks are aging.
My point is rum is the best spirit category which showcases the duality in spirits. Unaged or clear colored rum can excel regardless of being aged or not. An unaged or white rum from Jamaica or the French Caribbean Islands can have more flavor than most unaged and even-aged rum from column-distilled and often cask reliant South American rum. The unaged examples above, will have more flavor and intrinsic value when compared to brands like Don Papa, which are highly suspected using only neutral cane spirit which they artificially flavor and color.
There are also some rums in the market which are a blend of aged and unaged stocks. The Probitas/Veritas by the Foursquare and Hampden collaboration is one of the more famous examples. The Mhoba 101 is another example.
In an attempt to bring light to more rum from other parts of the world, I bring to you a couple of rums from Fiji which is in the South Pacific Ocean. I don’t know much about Fijian rum. The little I know is there is only one rum distillery left there, which is commonly referred to as South Pacific Distillery. But from what I know that’s no longer their name. They are also under Coke. I don’t know how many stills nor the type of stills they have. The same goes for their different Marques nor fermentation times. One of the bits I know is one of their stills is from the defunct New Zealand whisky distillery, Willowbank, which they modified for distilling rum.
This Berry Bros. Fiji rum is bottled at 46% abv. I bought this from a local distributor, who is partnered up with BBR, called Estate Wine for Php 4,800 which is about $96 or about £80. Sadly, I can’t find this at any of the EU sites anymore. So, this must be old dead stock.
The L’Espirit Fiji is a sample from The Lone Caner. It’s bottled at still strength (83%). I don’t know much about this company. All I know is they are a French company. Even with the rise of more rum independent bottlers, bottlings from this company are rarely seen online or talked about. Luckily, The Lone Caner has written about them here.
Berry Bro. & Rudd Fijian Rum 11 years – review
On the nose: A symphonic welcome. I get tart scents of dried figs with rotten pineapple and brandied cherries. These are accompanied by dry wood and loose-leaf black tea-like smell. There are bits of incoherent herbs in there. I can make out basil, mint, shiso leaves and green bell peppers.
In the mouth: Bits of cloves, black tea and sulfur upfront. The tartness comes again but it’s short and ruined by bits of sulfur. But the sulfur isn’t plain as I taste bits of pimento dram and cacao nibs with it. There are the herbs again like mentioned above but no mint. I get bits of anise and liquorice at the end. More cloves and undertones of sulfur creep up on me.
The dry wood, anise and licorice notes remind me of aged Port Morant rum from Guyana’s Diamond Distillery. Which makes this a unique rum in my book. With this being a unique rum, all I can say is fans of Demerara rum are more likely to like this. Recommending this to newbie rum drinkers would be like recommending Springbank to newbie whisky drinkers. Although, in a blind tasting, I think fans of dirty distillates like Mortlach and Edradour might take a liking to this. Assuming, of course, they don’t mind the funk this rum has.
I would have given this a 7, but the price gives it a deduction. I’ve had a lot of cheaper yet better rum. Still, I won’t take this rum for granted. Even the original bottlings from this Fiji rum distillery aren’t easy to find. I’m not too sad though as they’re said to be not good. The IB’s of this one of the better ones.
L’Esprit South Pacific Distillery Fiji rum – review
On the nose: Black Forest cake. I get dry cacao nibs with a certain creaminess and cherries. These persist the whole way. There’s the expected ethanol burn. Burnt eggplant skin, olive tapenade, ashy, peppers, cloves, burnt lime, burnt calamansi and orange bitters.
In the mouth: Immediate alcohol burn. There are those black forest cake notes again. But they are less enjoyable with the 83% abv chasing after me. I get bits of pistachio nuts and a bit of sulfur. There are those burnt citrus notes with olive tapenade again as well. At the end is a taste of lingering iron-y orange jam.
For something unaged and bottled at this whopper of an abv, this is complex. I’m sure drinking something at 83% is not a common experience. This should be something the cask strength drinkers will try to see how hardcore or manly they are. This is also really reminiscent of the very delicious Habitation Velier Port Mourant I reviewed a while back. Both have this unique black forest cake profile which just really makes my eyes roll up and makes my mouth salivate. Like the BBR Fiji rum above, this is also unique. So, it’s hard for me to compare this with other readily available rum.
This just reinforces my point that an unaged or white spirit can be damn good. The “80% of the flavor comes from the cask” is just lazy bullshit narrative meant to fool the blinkered sheep. If you want to see how good a distiller is or how good a distillery’s distillates really are, go after their unaged stocks. Don’t fall for their overpriced triple cask or 1st-fill ex-wine sulfured cask releases.
Lead image from L’Esprit’s Facebook page (WHISKY & RHUM, le caviste spécialiste).