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Holmes Cay Mhoba 2017 vs Mhoba Select Reserve French Cask

I think it’s about time that South African rum be covered on Malt again.

It has been more than a year since Mhoba was last reviewed on Malt, which is not surprising since rum is still shedding decades worth of bad reputation from misunderstandings caused by lazy marketing and lazy journalism.

With the Caribbean being the center of global rum production since the 1600s, it’s to be expected that most of today’s popular rums are from that region. As a result of this increased popularity, we’ve been seeing more quality rum coming from Asia and Africa. Japan’s Nine Leaves, Thailand’s Chalong Bay, and Vietnam’s Sampan are a few examples from Asia.

South Africa’s Mhoba, Reunion Island’s Savannah, and Mauritius’ New Grove are some examples from the African continent. This shouldn’t be surprising to us, as we’ve seen this trend through whisk(e)y. Single malt Scotch’s rise in popularity has paved the way for Asian brands such as Taiwan’s Kavalan, India’s Amrut and the countless growing brands of Japan.

My aim today is to compare Mhoba aged in ex-bourbon casks to Mhoba aged in French oak. Whisk(e)y may be the spirit that sees the most barrel aging, but how often do we see a whisk(e)y that’s only seen the inside of French Oak? There’s an untold amount of whiskies aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, while the ones that have any sort of French oak influence are usually double-matured with ex-bourbon casks. So I’ve always been curious at how French Oak can really affect a distillate.

The Mhoba that’s only touched an ex-bourbon cask today is from Holmes Cay. They’re an American-owned and based independent rum bottler that I’ve covered in the past. This Holmes Cay Mhoba is actually from an ex-South African whisky cask, but it was also an ex-bourbon cask before it got filled with South African whisky. So, it’s still technically ex-bourbon.

There aren’t a lot of South African whisky brands yet. The few I know of are Bain’s Cape, Three Ships, and Copper Republic, but these are the only ones that have received some international attention. So, this cask could have come from a distillery that’s not known to me yet.

Mhoba’s Select Reserve French Cask is today’s other rum. According to their website, they refurbish and re-toast Cape red wine casks. The rum is aged for more than one year in these French oak casks.

I’ll also note that this isn’t meant to be a definitive description of what Mhoba will be like after being aged in these two types of cask. Like many rum distilleries, they make different marques of rum; they’re just nameless at the moment. So, I don’t know whether these two are the same marques, or if they’re the same.

Additional notes: distillers say re-charring a cask is a way to reset it. I’m guessing this is due to the flames burning the traces of any alcohol in the wood. So, I’m assuming the idea is the same for re-toasting. Toasting is just like charring, but with lower heat.

A Cape also refers to a geographical term that is often applied to wine. It’s a large piece of land that sticks out into the sea from the coast. South Africa has a lot of these, with Cape Town being the most popular.

Holmes Cay Mhoba 2017 4 Years Old – Review

Distilled 2017. Bottled 2021. Bottle #116. Cask #48. 59% ABV. USD $109.99 from K&L Wines.

Color: Golden hay.

On the nose: Rich, funky and savory. The aromas keep on changing after every time I try to smell this, so I’ll just mention everything I smell. I get medium to pronounced aromas of pineapple syrup, brandied cherries, sugarcane vinegar, gasoline, Taiwanese pineapple cake, sugarcane juice, lemongrass syrup, chocolate, toffee, minerals, pineapple shrub, sugarcane stakes, pineapple crown, and honey.

In the mouth: Just like on the nose, the orders of flavors change after every sip. I get medium to intense tastes of muscovado sugar, toffee, gasoline, Taiwanese pineapple cake, pineapple syrup, brandied cherries, caramelized onions, lemongrass syrup, chocolate, sugarcane vinegar, pineapple shrub, and honey.

Conclusions:

I think this is superb. Mhoba may be a sugarcane juice-based rum, but it’s very different from most of the already established ones made in the Caribbean. It’s been said before, but the aged Mhobas I’ve tried have all been like a mix of Jamaican rum mixed with top notch aged agricole.

Aside from being very different, it’s also unpredictable yet consistent. Unpredictable, because experiencing this is like interacting with a very admirable person you don’t know well, who is showing off the different sides of his personality. Consistent, because the rum ranges from having strong funky fruit flavors to having sugarcane-based rum acidity and funk. Each time I smell and taste the rum, the flavors are grouped up together in these kind of profiles. It’s as though the dominant flavors willingly take turns with each other to present themselves.

This is one of the best rums I’ve had this year. Despite being young, I find this rum to be almost the complete package. If only the flavors lasted longer, I think I’d give this a 10.

Score: 9/10 

Mhoba Select Reserve French Cask Rum – Review

Batch #2019FCL. Bottle # 314/330. 65% ABV. €94.5 from Zeewijck.

Color: Honey.

On the nose: There’s a strong ethanol heat accompanied by a funk that lingers. After and behind the heat are light to medium and long aromas of pineapple shrub, sugarcane vinegar, Taiwanese pineapple cakes, pineapple syrup, freshly toasted milk bread, brandied cherries, pineapple crown, and freshly baked bread. In between are flashes of sandalwood, cedar, soy sauce, and ginkgo beans.

In the mouth: My first sip is sweeter and fruitier than the nose. It’s also hot, but not as hot as what you’d expect from something bottled at 65%. I get medium to intense tastes of pineapple syrup, brandied cherries, lemongrass syrup, French toast, honey, toffee, and butterscotch. In between and at the end are flashes of sugarcane vinegar, ginkgo beans, freshly toasted baguette, pineapple crows, sugarcane stalks and the crusty part of a crème brûlée.

Conclusions:

It may be due to the age difference, but this isn’t as complex as the Holmes Cay Mhoba. Still, this is a great rum. The distillery DNA in this is just as pronounced as the Holmes Cay, but the lack of cask aging makes it not as complex.

This also lacks the surprise factor the Holmes Cay Mhoba’s unpredictability brings. Aside from that, I don’t see any faults in this rum. The most negative thing about this is how hot and young it is, but it’s not as hot as what you’d expect for something at 65% ABV.

Sadly, the cask comparison is not conclusive due to how the distillery DNA overpowers the cask influence and the difference in age. Don’t get me wrong: I love how the distillery DNA is stronger than the cask flavors. But there are some subtle flavors derived from the difference in cask influence.

Score: 7/10

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.

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