“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

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26 April 2010

RUM TIME IN RUM TIMES: TA MARTINIQUE!

RHUM J.M DISTILLERY ON MARTINIQUE IN THE SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN

Certainly Not Bacardi Falling Grace Hits Casa Blanco Gill's Immaculate Rumbustulations

by PHILIP WHITE a version of this story appeared in The Independent Weekly

While any hard-core rum sot will tell you that the dark, wood-aged molasses-based rums are the only true sugarcane juice for the aficionado, the immaculate Gill Gordon Smith arrived at my door the other day with a bottle or two of paler beauties which instilled me with rumbustion.

Still being the operative word. Rum is made by brewing a rough wine from the sugar cane or its byproducts and then distilling this in traditional copper pots like those used in Cognac or Scotland, or in the more modern continuous stills that you see standing like great sentinels at any oil refinery. (As they refine oil to make your petrol, their byproducts in turn fuel the petrochem industry which makes the poisons and sprays and fertilizers which perpetuate modern cane farming and most other monocultures.)

Rum was the grease that oiled the slave trade. They called it the Golden Triangle, or the Eternal Triangle. Regardless of how briefly they survived, it must have felt like eternity for the poor bastards who were its prey. Swap rum for humans on the African coast, swap humans for molasses with the cane farmers of the Caribbean, swap molasses for rum up the east coast of the USA, where the biggest distillers were, then back to jolly old Africa. Yo ho ho.

Most rum was distilled molasses: a side product of the sugar business. As the traders worked their way north, the last unsold barrels full of the thickest, oldest molasses were dumped at bargain rates to the fishers of Newfoundland, Labrador and the Bay of Fundy. The tough locals there still drink a fearsome rum made from this sludge. They wisely call it screech.

The other end of the trade, quality-wise, was where the best, freshest slaves were swapped for the finest freshest molasses, in the southern Caribbean. The planters there were sufficiently well endowed to afford to make rum straight from a ferment of fresh sugar cane juice, which, to this day affords the superior appellation agricole.

Gill’s drinks were rums from the tiny French Caribbean island, Martinique. Two came from Rhum J.M, an ancient distillery about the size of Rockford wines. The Rhum J. M Agricola Blanc was a glorious blonde which steered my reflection to the days of the cold war, when Russian vodka was verboten. The unoaked white spirit market was full of rum, notably Bacardi, which fled Cuba when Castro nationalized the business.

I loved the exquisite Goddards Gold Braid rum in those days, a lightly-oaked pale gold British East Indies product imported and bottled by Clelands. Cuba still sells all its lovely rum under the Havana Club brand; only the advent of Gorbachev unleashed the vodka business, which rules to this day.

But these Martinique beauties are certainly not Barcardi, I assure you. The blanc (50% alcohol; $66.50; 94 points) is a delicious, swervy dance of a drink. The distiller’s entrapped a range of aromatic esters reminiscent of butter, banana and rose petal at the fatty end of the spectrum, through to coconut husk and fresh sugarcane leaf at the greener extreme. Add a drop of water, and it becomes Turkish delight. I could sup on it all day, neat, with maybe one small block of ice, but it would also perfectly mix with any tropical fruit juice.

More brooding, but still not dark, was the Rhum J. M. V. O. Reserve Speciale Agricole (47% alcohol; $120; 95 points), which had spent four or five years in old American whiskey barrels. Strong spirit tenaciously tears flavours from even old oak. Occasionally the best cellars learn to entrap a delightful citrus twist, which I have also seen in infant Scots single malts from new American oak. So this wicked tincture, which is about the colour of Curacao, has wound that citrus round its buttery esters to make a bouquet like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. The oak has also left whiffs of nutmeg, clove and coconut. It’s exquisite. You need no water.

The St. James distillery is more along the size of Penfolds. Its Rhum Agricole Royal Ambre (45% alcohol; $60; 91 points) has the dustier end of the oak spectrum prominent, with old spice box, nutmeg and gingerbread. There’s still some citrus, but even that’s more like dried peel. Let it air, and it starts to smell like a burnt orange crême caramel. It’s a neat sipper for the malt whisky nut.

But if you really wanta rock with the style pirates, it’s the St. James 12 ans Agricole (43% alcohol; $120; 95 points). A dozen years of oak has raised a salacious doll of a drink with hair the colour of rusty roses and the aroma of a freshly-polished brass giardinere perched in a woody gentleman’s club, stacked with a
trifle made from honeycomb toffee, fudge, orange marmalade, fruit mince, and butterscotch sauce. The lads are pouring in through the windows; Drambuie and Benedictine are voluntarily walking the plank.

GILL GORDON SMITH AT HER BUSTLING FALL FROM GRACE WINE BAR, BESIDE BLESSED CHEESE IN THE MAIN STREET OF McLAREN VALE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA; LICENSED TO HOLD FOURTEEN SOULS

Le Père Jules Poiré
$22; 2.8% alcohol; cork; 92 points
This stunning mouthful of pears seemed to be the hit drink which lubricated the McLaren Vale vintage: it was the preferred drink of many exhausted hose-draggers and winemakers. A classic pear cider from Normandy, it’s only 2.8% alcohol: hardly a heady threat in the strength department. Instead, its strength is in its honest entrapment of the essence of pear juice in its most invigorating, lively form. Just lightly petillant from bottle fermentation, it’s a healthy, zippy, delicious refreshment which comes under a champagne-style wired cork. It works perfectly with or without ice. For outlets call Gill Gordon Smith at Fall From Grace.

Roger Groult Calvados Pays d’Auge Vénérable

$300; 41% alcohol; cork; 96 points
Another triffic product from Gill Gordon Smith’s formidable arsenal, this ancient Norman spirit is made from a blend of around twenty varieties of cider apples which are fermented, distilled, and barrel-aged for many decades, then “freshened” with apple eaux-de-vie of about twenty years of age. It smells like the perfect apple tart, complete with nutmeg and cloves, soused in some magical liqueur and a dollop of fresh cream. It’s a transporting, ethereal, totally seductive and disarming drink at a great price. If anything this old and characterful ever escapes from Cognac it’ll cost you an extra thousand. The perfect birthday present!




3 comments:

PETER PANDOUT said...

YOU SHOULD WRITE MORE ABOUT SPIRITS YOU CRAZY OLD PIRATE! THE WAY THE WINE BUSINESS IS GOING WE NEED MORE STRENGTH IN OUR THIRST.

bat-hater said...

"Certainly not Bacardi"! Ha! I love your headline! Bugger the Bacardis. Have they settled their case with Cuba yet? Wren't they sued for calling their rum Cuban?

appreciativator said...

I like already Gill's "immaculate rumbustions".