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Review 14 – Mezan Rum

Social media is a wonderful thing and truly connects people everywhere. Thanks to our (relentless) posting of cocktails and rums on Instagram we were contacted by Mr. Warren Bobrow, the USA brand ambassador for Mezan rum who kindly introduced us to his wonderful partners in London.

Fast forward two months and the RumCask Family found itself stood outside Edison House on Old Marylebone Road excited about the evening ahead! Let’s sample some rums we thought. Take a dozen photos, write up the tasting notes and complete the social media circle-of-life by clicking post!

Wrong. Very wrong.

What was to ensue over the next two hours would be nothing short of a history lesson in spirits and yes, rum would take centre stage but by no means would it steal the show in this all-star cast. You see Mezan rum is but one of many brands owned and distributed by Marussia Beverages (formerly Eaux de Vie).  Established in 1984, Marussia Beverages import and distribute a fantastic array of spirits. Starting over 30 years ago with Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados they now boast a range that includes many gins, bourbons, sake, vodka, sherry and rum!

Our host for the evening was Mr. Philip Wilson, brand manager for Marussia. “Head down there and his office is on the left” said a helpful gentleman when we first stepped on to the Marussia floor. Our collective jaws hit the floor when we walked in because this truly is an office like no other. Desk to one side, a few boxes on the other, a large conference style table in the middle and a bar at the back! Actually, most bars would only hold a fraction of the bottles that Philip’s shelves held. Here stood a true library of spirits.

The ethos of Marussia we were told has always been about “the story”.  Who is the producer, why is he or she distilling this spirit and how are they doing it? Philip explained that “Once we find a good distiller we know we can work with them. We know that they will be consistent and continue to make a good product”. The mantra is organic and true and the company has grown from roughly half a dozen people 10 years ago to more than 40 today.

img_3375So to rum and specifically, Mezan. Many years ago having purchased some casks from Jamaica and Guyana the team left them to the side to mature and almost forgot about them! Perhaps they were being kept for a future staff party but when they revisited them they realised they’d bought something pretty special. This set off a chain of events that sent their Cellar Master travelling throughout the Caribbean searching for rums that were “artfully crafted from a single year’s distillation by a single distillery (some of which no longer exist). Unsweetened, uncoloured and only lightly filtered, these rums represent the truest expression of their producer and their country of origin”.

The rum is all purchased in cask and then set aside for maturation. Using only ex-bourbon casks (but sometimes re-casking) the rum slowly ages “until it has reached the height of its potential”. It is then bottled one cask at a time and ready for pouring. Mezan’s slogan is “The Untouched Rum” and that is the driving principle here. No blending (save for the XO), no sweetening, no colouring and only a light gauze filtration such that the final product is an authentic, regional rum delivered to the distiller’s demands.

Here-in lies the key to Mezan. These are genuinely unique rums. Produced from “distilleries old and new, some founded centuries ago, others no longer in operation”, these rums are one-offs and never to be repeated. In essence these bottles are time capsules from an age gone by with each drop embodying particular methods and cultures from different parts of the Caribbean all in homage to the Noble Spirit.

X.O. Jamaica

wp-1477032089889.jpgMezan’s only blended rum is a carefully composed concoction showcasing rums from 3 different Jamaican distilleries. Only 5000 bottles were ever produced and the end result is classic Jamaica.  Light straw coloured with a touch of pale gold, the Mezan X.O. has a narrow nose with tropical fruits and particularly bananas being very apparent. The flavour hits the front of the tongue and here we taste guava. Moving to the back of the mouth and throat the spices really come through. Not overly dry and the taste does not linger long in the mouth. Well balanced and flavourful, Philip even likened it to a classic Fruit Salad sweet!

Guyana 2005

wp-1477032169482.jpgDistilled in the double wooden pot still from the original Port Mourant Estate founded in 1732. After the estate closed the still was initially moved to Uitvlugt Distillery and then eventually to Diamond Distillery who produced this Guyana 2005. Diamond typically produce medium-to-heavy Demerara style rum and this offering from Mezan is no exception. A wide nose that couldn’t be more different from the X.O. and complex with a sense of big, over-ripe fruits. A lot of flavour on the palette that moves from oak and ripe bananas to leafy vegetables.

 

Panama 1999

wp-1477032122403.jpgProduced by the famous Don Jose Distillery in 1999 the rums in this batch go through a double maturation process whereby they are aged twice in separate sets of white oak.  Using modern multi-column stills the distillery grows its own cane for the production of aguardiente and rum. They also cultivate historical yeast cultures which add character to their rums. A beautiful honey coloured rum with a narrow nose. Baking spices and a pleasant sweetness (all natural!) are a joy to behold. The flavour profile is elegant and spreads evenly across the tongue. Vanilla and oak combine well to give a quite exquisite finish.

Our tasting journey ended here with Philip and we didn’t quite manage to get on to the Trinidad 1999 from the now closed Caroni Distillery nor Monymusk Distillery’s Jamaica 2003. However, he assures us we are welcome back any time to continue our education!

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How Is Rum Produced? (Part 1 – Sugar Cane)

In a previous article: Christopher Columbus and Sugar Cane, I mentioned how he transported sugar cane seedlings to the Caribbean. However, from that point there is still a long way to go before you get to the bottle of rum that is (hopefully) sitting in front of you.

The bulk of all sugar cane is still harvested by hand throughout the world. It is cut down by machete and then transported to machines which crush the sugar cane’s hard stalk. This extracts sugar cane juice. From here depending on the producer of rum we have three different options.

1)    If producing Rhum Agricole then the fresh juice is moved directly to the fermentation and distillation process.

2)    This juice can be cooked and concentrated into sugar syrup and then fermented and distilled from here.

3)    The fresh juice is then manipulated into molasses and crystallised sugar. The molasses are sold to distilleries and are fermented and distilled into the bulk of rums that are produced today. They also contain a noteworthy amount of minerals and other elements which contribute to the flavour of the final product.

From any of these stages, we end up with the raw materials for the next stage in production cycle, which is fermentation.

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How Is Rum Produced? (Part 2 – Fermentation)

Please visit Part 1 here if you haven’t already, about sugar cane.

Now we have the raw materials we can move onto the fermentation stage of production. It is from this point where huge amount of variation occur from distillery to distillery. The two extremes of the fermentation process vary from “natural fermentation” to laboratory conditions. Natural fermentation occurs in large open vats where the yeast in the environment ferments the sugars. It can be quite inefficient and unpredictable. Laboratory conditions include specific yeast cultures which are purchased by distilleries as well as precautions to minimise environmental affects.

The addition of this yeast (and to a lesser extent, water) is what converts the available sucrose into alcohol. The time is takes can last from just a few hours to a few weeks and also depends on the yeast that is added to the raw materials in this process. Once this has been completed and there is almost no sugar left, the distillation process can begin.

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How Is Rum Produced? (Part 3 – Distillation)

Please click here for Part 1 about sugar cane and Part 2 about the fermentation stage.

Now that we have fermented the raw materials, we can move on to distillation stage. The fermented liquid is placed in a still. During early stages of rum production, these were pot stills, but as technology has advanced these are now almost universally column stills. From here the still is heated to around 80 degrees C which is where alcohol boils and then evaporates. The steam created from this evaporation is then collected and re-condensed. When re-condensed, this liquid will be between 40-98% alcohol depending on the environmental factors in which it was created. This could be bottled and sold as rum if desired by the manufacturer. At this stage the rum will be colourless and clear and is quite raw.

It would be easy to say that this procedure seems quite basic and simple. However, there are a variety of different factors which go into this science of the distillation. The shape and size of the stills (which are hand made) all add to the final product. The stills could be very complex or remarkably simple. Also at this stage, some distillers may choose to remove certain chemical elements. We now have raw rum which could be bottled. But in most instances we now move onto our next stage in the production cycle which is aging.

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Christopher Columbus and Sugar Cane

Almost everybody will know that Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer. He completed four voyages over the Atlantic Ocean to try to establish permanent settlements in the Caribbean and he started the Spanish Colonisation of the new world during the 15th Century. In 1493, Columbus left for the new world on his second journey which is the most important for us. This is because he carried sugarcane seedlings with him, to an area where sugarcane was not native. It was cultivated in Santo Domingo.

After Columbus returned, many Europeans visited the new world and were disillusioned with how well the sugarcane flourished in the Caribbean climate due to the competition it created. However, the countries who ended up colonising various areas of the Caribbean were the ones who decided to make the most of this discovery and created plantations on the islands. This eventually led to slaves being brought in from Africa to farm the plantations due to the number of workers necessary to harvest the sugar cane.

Thank you Mr Columbus!

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How Is Rum Produced? (Part 4 – Aging)

The first three stages of production can be found here: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Now we have our rum, we move onto the aging process. This is done to help remove the harsh taste acquired from small amounts of hydrogen sulphide gas which is created during the fermentation process. Due to the high cost of barrels and the relative low cost of rum when it was first aged, rum has almost always and still till today, uses oak barrels which once were used to age whiskey or bourbon. These barrels not only add flavour to the rum but also colour. If the rum is aged in stainless steel tanks it will stay mostly clear. The minimum term rum will usually be aged for is one year.

Rum can be aged for decades if desired but depending on the process we get a loss of rum known as the angel or ‘duppy’ share. The higher the share, the less rum remains after the aging process. The highest angel share I have come across was quite recently where it was over 75% of the rum in the Velier Uitvlugt ULR 1997 (Review here). The final part is next and is the blending and bottling of the rum.

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Where Was Sugarcane Fermentation Created?

The pioneers of fermenting sugarcane to produce drinks were actually from the East of the globe and date back to ancient times. It is believed that the process first transpired in either India or China. From that origin point it spread globally. This is hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Marco Polo also wrote about a “very good wine of sugar” that was offered to him in the 14th Century, 3 centuries before the similar process occurred in the Caribbean. There are records of this wine labelled “brum” throughout history and is a popular drink in Malaysia. Although around 80% of all rum originates in and around the Caribbean, its humble beginnings may have been as far away from there as possible.

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Rum Or Rhum – What’s The Difference?

If you have started to look for different rums when out or over the internet you may have started to see a change in certain spellings of rum. You may have noticed an ‘h’ being added to certain rums. This is not just a difference in spelling due to the region or place where the rum is made but there is actually a material difference in the manufacture of the rum from a very early stage of the process.

When the islands in the Caribbean were invaded and colonised they were done so by four major civilisations; English, Spanish, Dutch and French. All except the Dutch began distillation of rum on a large scale and as a result have different textures and tastes to each other. The English rums are deeper and full bodied rums e.g. Mount Gay from Barbados. The Spanish were crisper and lighter e.g. Brugal from the Dominican Republic. Both created rum using the molasses produced when making sugar from the sugar cane crop.

The French however not only used this process to make rum, but also decided to use rum made from sugar cane juice. They make a sugar solution from this called ‘vesou.’ Made in this way it is officially called Rhum Agricole, but usually shortened to Rhum. A major difference between molasses and cane juice is that molasses are very stable and can and are shipped all over the world. Cane juice however, is prone to degeneration and as a result is sourced locally so that it is fresh for the distilleries. It is also important to know that currently, Rhum makes up only about 3-5% of all rum production in the world.

As you can imagine using a different ingredient very early on in the production of a rhum would result in different flavours being found in Rhum than Rum. An example of a couple of well-known Rhum Agricole include Rhum JM and Clement both from Martinique. Next time you are at a bar, why not ask to try a Rhum and see how you find the difference between them

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A Brief History

In the Caribbean during the 17th Century, sugar farming was rife and a major source of income. However, once the sugar cane (Genus Saccharum) was harvested, crushed and boiled, it would leave a viscous liquid by product when producing the sugar. This by product was molasses.

As well as having no practical use at the time, the molasses were produced at an astounding rate of 50% of the amount of sugar created. The sugar plantation owners fed the by product to cattle and the slaves, but there was still too much being produced.

Miraculously, the plantation slaves discovered that the molasses could be fermented into alcohol. This initial process was refined and distilled to remove impurities to create the first rums ever.

I recommend the following couple of books if you are interested in finding out more about rum and its history:

1) Rum – A Global History by Richard Foss

2) And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis

Please feel free to add any others in the comments section which you think are worth a read.

 

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Setting Sail With Rum

If I was to offer you Rum, what would you expect?

After an early discovery of Captain Morgan as a fresh faced 18 year old at University back in 2004, I have delved deeper and deeper into the endless varieties of rum that are available on the market. Contrary to popular belief, this market is global; ranging from Japan to the USA and almost every country in-between, even though almost 80% comes from the Caribbean.

Did you know Rum was the first branded spirit to have ever been
made?

I enjoy the immense number of different type of rums that are available out there and as a result I have gathered a collection of over 100 different bottles. I have been to London’s RumFest for 6 years and last year I went to the Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival in St Maarten where I met other rum enthusiasts and a few connoisseurs.

RumCask is here as an attempt to help into understanding there is more to rum than meets the eye!