Saint James XO

Dipping into an agricole today, I must admit that this is not my forte and my palate is still getting used to agricole rums, so make of this what you will. For what it’s worth I’ve gone for something with a touch more age and a more “classic” rum profile in the way of Saint James XO for this review.

What is it? Agricole rum (column still from cane juice) from the Saint James distillery in Martinique. Given where this is from they have a nice little AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) which governs exactly what the rum must be restricted to for production and aging. The AOC Martinique regulations are very (very) extensive and you can read about them directly online here if you fancy geeking out, so I wont go over this too much, but to cover some of the more interesting points it indicates a rum made from sugar cane cultivated in strictly authorised areas on the island, with limited yields and agricultural practices that protect the land and the quality of the crops. 100 per cent sugar cane juice must be used in production, distillation is made through columns or continuous stills, alcohol levels must not be lower than 40% ABV and colouring must be natural from ageing only in oak casks. There are only seven AOC accredited distilleries on Martinique. Just 3 per cent of the world’s rum holds the AOC Agricole Rum mark. It goes on and on to include the brix level (sugar content) of the juice, fermentation times allowed, level of organic volatiles for each grade, minimum maturation periods etc. This rum is also marked as an XO, which means that under the AOC regulations it has to be aged for a minimum of 6 years in oak barrels not exceeding 650 liters – obviously it can be made up of older rums too, but we don’t know the blend details in this other than it is at least 6 years old, aged tropically. I’ve seen reports that is contains rums up to 10 years old, but it may well change from time to time depending on yields and flavour profile consistency.

Not coloured (as detailed above), chill filtered and bottled at 43% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Quite a full and rich nose with hazelnut, milk chocolate, fudge, pralines actually or whole nut chocolate bars, marmalade, chocolate covered gingers, raisins and vanilla. Under this are more typical agricole notes of hay, some sweeter white wine, fennel, tarragon and parsley. Some fresh root licorice and a touch of black olive as well as brine right at the end.

Palate: Medium mouth feel, sharp and dry. Ah, totally opposite to the nose; starts with cane juice, which wine, aniseed, tarragon sauce, sharp and tangy oranges and some sour woody notes – almost green sappy wood. Then come the nutty toasted oaks, white pepper, vanilla and cinnamon notes at the back of the palate. Still a slight sour note running through to the end.

Finish: Medium. Nutty still from the palate, hazelnuts, milk chocolate and nutmeg. As the Finish lingers you’re left with quite a bit of raw licourice, fennel, soil and brine. It’s more like the progression of the nose here.

Thoughts? Good but not great. I love the nose but the palate is just a bit too sharp and sour for my liking – it is an agricole, and as I say I’ve still got a way to go with my palate as it stands. This rum set me back only around £40 which is pretty cheap for an XO agricole, usually you’d be into to £60 plus range, as such I think it’s fair value for money and one worth seeking out to dip your toe into the matured agricole world. Personally though it’s not for me at the moment and not something I’d look at buying again.

If you fancy a bottle of this then you can pick it up at The Whisky Exchange here:

Saint James XO

Chamarel Blend – 2010 and 2014 – bottled 2017 for 70 years of Velier

What is it? Not quite sure to be honest, the bottle says “Vatted Single Rum” which isn’t a rum type that was outlined by the Gargano classification, odd given that this bottling was done by Velier…..what it does say is that it’s from sugar cane juice, so it’s an Agricole. The rum is from the Chamarel distillery in Mauritius, now they have some different stills there; column stills and pot stills, and as there is no detail on the bottle to say what type of rum was in the casks used for this blend I can’t possibly comment; I have contacted Velier for some information as well as the distillery, but neither have been forthcoming, which is a shame. The rum is made up from 2 casks, cask 181 and 182, there are 2 ages on the bottle too, 2010 and 2014 – these are the vintages of the rum. We would assume that one cask is from 2010 and one cask is from 2014, but it may be that these are 2 sister casks (given the cask numbering) and were filled at the same time/same batch, in which case the rum in the casks is a blend of rum from those 2 different years….again we just don’t know. C’mon, data please!!!! It’s important! Either way, the rum in the blend, from these 2 casks and years, contains 80% from 2010 and 20% from 2014. The rum was bottled in 2017 for the 70th anniversary of Velier and I understand that the aging would have been done entirely in Mauritius. I also have no idea what cask types were used for this rum, Chamarel have a large catalogue of casks ranging from French oak casks, wine casks, ex-bourbon casks to new american oak (virgin casks). My gut feeling is that this was matured in French oak of some sort, but I could be totally wrong.

Not coloured, not chill filtered and bottled at 56.5% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Not what I was expecting at all; big, bold and spicy with fresh nutmeg, mace and cinnamon sticks. There is some old leather, sandalwood, cedar and rolling tobacco here, green coffee beans, root liquorice and dried parsley. Some sharpness cuts through with a slightly sour white wine note and wet, fresh cut grass. Lots of dried fruit in this too with raisins, cranberry tartness and a mix of dried tropical fruit that you’d find in some muesli, like papaya, pineapple and banana. There is this almost grainy whisky note too right at the back. Very complex indeed.

Palate: Lovely mouth feel to this, medium, not too heavy with an oily texture. Hot at first and spicy with peppercorns, cinnamon and green chillies. Rolling tobacco again and that incense note of sandalwood comes out. Yellow flesh stone fruit (apricots, mango and nectarine) and the sharp wine. Some sour green wood appears just to remind you that this is made from cane juice. Things get dry from this point, very dry; nutmeg powder and a huge (and I mean huge) wave of fresh liquorice root takes over and you can feel the puckering in your mouth as it dries off your tongue. Some unsweetened black coffee and 90% cocoa dark chocolate appear but all it does it make it drier.

Finish: Long. Bone dry. It’s all 90% cocoa dark chocolate, unsweetened espresso, raisins – if you could remove any sweetness from them – tree sap, sucking cut grass and a tiny glimmer of dried banana chips. It’s really, really dry at the finish.

Thoughts? Wow, this is pretty intense stuff. Not like any Agricole I’ve had before; there are still some cane juice rum notes here but the casks are leading on this and the fruit is very concentrated. This is one of those rums that you open and go “wow, this is good”. The more you drink it the better it gets too, which is crazy – half way through the bottle and it was blowing me away. What an incredible rum, what a blend of casks.

Now, when I bought this at the start of 2019 it had been sitting on the shelf in the shop for ages and was about £75….for a Velier bottling, and I know why; it’s from Chamarel, and it was a maximum of 7 years old. If this was a Jamaican, a Demerara or a Foursquare it’d have sold out at that price, but Mauritian rum doesn’t seem to command the same interest in the market for some reason. Well, let me tell you, it’s very good indeed – between Chamarel, New Grove (Gray’s) and Labourdonnais I’ve not had a bad rum and this Chamarel is one of the best. For £75 it was an absolute steal – another one of those rums I should have bought multiple bottles of.

Depaz Port Cask Finish

What is it? Rum, distilled in a column still where the raw material is pressed sugar cane juice – so a R(h)um Agricole. This rum was produced at the Depaz distillery on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies and has been aged for around 8 years in oak casks followed by a finishing period of 11 months in Port casks, all ageing is done tropically. You can read more about the rum and distillery in my previous posts here and here, which cover off the AOC classification and background.

Chill filtered, not coloured and bottled at 45% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: A shy nose at first, there is some rich chocolate – the 60% dark stuff, like Bournville – liquorice, cinnamon, some slight cane but not much. Chocolate covered cranberries, plums (those deep black ones) and ground black pepper. There is a little vanilla in there right at the back but the richer flavours keep it down.

Palate: Medium. More cane here but it’s quickly take over by milk chocolate, liquorice, coffee beans, stewed plums with vanilla cream topping, raspberry jam, damsons and Turkish Delight. There is some sweet nutty oak, marzipan and handful of hazelnuts, almonds and cashews pop up towards the finish.

Finish: Long. Spicy at first with black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon but it gets chocolatey, then soft cooked stone fruits and a little butterscotch as it progresses. Vanilla and some dried banana chips, dusted with coconut appear right at the end.

Thoughts? This is my 2nd favourite of the new Depaz rums. There isn’t all that much sugar cane juice on offer but there are really lovely rich, nutty flavours and the Port cask adds a deep dark fruit that really compliments the rum rather than cover up the character, which often happens with “finishing”. Ok, this one is quite pricey and it’ll set you back around £80 or more for a bottle, and whilst it’s really very good I’m not sure I’d get a bottle of this over the VSOP as that really is the sweet spot for me.

Depaz XO Grand Reserve

What is it? Rum, distilled in a column still where the raw material is pressed sugar cane juice – so a R(h)um Agricole. This rum was produced at the Depaz distillery on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies and has been aged for around 8-10 years in oak casks, tropically. You can read more about the rum and distillery in my previous posts here and here, which cover off the AOC classification and background.

Chill filtered, not coloured and bottled at 45% abv.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Plenty of lovely French oak here with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and black peppercorns. Fragrant notes of rose water, fresh root liquorice, hazelnuts and more vanilla. There is a little milk chocolate, some distant old leather and a meaty mushroom’y note too; almost sherry like or grape’y Cognac notes. All very “smooth” and constructed – words I dislike in spirits. Smooth for me is shy, “easy” and lacking vibrant character. It’s a very nice nose indeed but not a conversation starter.

Palate: Medium. First off there is some sour green wood, but that dies away. The flavours are quite muted; some fresh cane and tight oak spice, apple and white grape, but picking out individual flavours here is hard – maybe my lack of experience with Agricoles. I get a feeling of soft, well matured spirit more than anything individual – the types of smells I find in a good aged Cognac.

Finish: Long. Lingering spices of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and white pepper. This fades off and leaves room for plenty of milk chocolate, figs, stewed stone-fruit, coconut and vanilla. There is more to find here than on the actual palate, which is good as the finish does last a long time.

Thoughts? Hmmm. It’s normal to expect things to get better as you move up a range, age and price, but this isn’t what’s happened here. The vibrant cane notes and floral aspects that are present in the Plantation and the VSOP are lost in this and it becomes a different rum altogether. It takes quite a lot of time in the glass and some getting used to to find the notes. I suspect that Depaz are aiming firmly at the XO Cognac type drinkers with this rum, it’s so similar and constructed in the same way it would easily be interchangeable for a normal XO Cognac, like a Courvoisier. It’s clearly well made and matured, but I find the whole thing just a bit too muted and “smooth” for my liking, I want some more character to jump out of the glass at me.

Good, but not my style and I wouldn’t part with £75 for it I’m afraid.

Depaz VSOP Reserve Speciale

What is it? Rum, distilled in a column still where the raw material is pressed sugar cane juice – so a R(h)um Agricole. This rum was produced at the Depaz distillery on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies and has been aged for at least 7 years in oak casks, tropically. You can read more about the rum and distillery in my previous posts here and here, which cover off the AOC classification and background – I wont labour old ground. This rum is also labelled as a Très Vieux which means it is “very old” and meets the additional classification of Vieux rhum under the AOC that was outlined in the review of the Depaz “Plantation” Rhum on the link above.

Chill filtered, not coloured and bottled at 45% abv.

Sugar? No

Nose: Toasty oak, pipe tobacco, dried coconut flakes from muesli and mixed nuts. Lovely candied papaya and dried pineapple too. A little fig jam, milk chocolate, vanilla and a hint of nutmeg. There is, naturally, cane juice, green olives, hay and a touch of lavender.

Palate: Medium. Cane’y at first, with cut grass, white wine, dried herbs (parsley and marjoram). Some notes of banana, coconut, papaya and vanilla pop up and then it gets spicier with cinnamon, allspice and pink peppercorns. There’s a salty white chocolate note, some soured yogurt, hazelnuts and prune. At the end, the faintest hint of tobacco in the distance and the tang of black liquorice.

Finish: Medium to long. Milk chocolate mouse, chocolate coated nuts, salt and pepper cashews, a little olive’y note and a meaty fig in here too. Right at the end there is a lovely creamy banana, soft vanilla and desiccated coconut.

Thoughts? My favourite of the 4 new Depaz rums. This one is a lot more balanced than the Plantation, it’s less oaked than the XO and sits in the right place for age, price and overall flavour. I’ll be get getting a full bottle of this, for sure. A lovely complex and enjoyable rum and a great buy at the £50-55 is costs.