Bielle & Labat - unaged Marie Galante classics
Festive 5 days 'off grid' enjoying a cosy cottage and some hiking in the Lake District. What better time to review a selection of the finest rhums from the tiny tropical island of Marie Galante.
Situated off the coast of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, Marie Galante has a well deserved reputation for producing some of the world's finest cane juice rhums.
A largely unspoilt island, still using many traditional methods and cultivating rare heritage varieties of cane. I have often heard it claimed that Marie Galante produces the finest sugar cane in the world - clearly a fun opportunity to test that in future tastings.
Today I'm reviewing rhums from two of Marie Galante's distilleries - Bielle and Poisson (home of Pere Labat). These rhums are all un-aged, made from fresh cane juice (rather than molasses) and all very similar abv (56-59%) - so I'm expecting there to be relatively fine differences. Let's get stuck in...
Rhum Rhum PMG 2010-2017 ish (Bielle) – 56%
(Identifiable from a flat base I believe)
The result of a long time dream, this rhum is a collaboration between rum explorer Luca Gargano and renowned distiller Gianni Capovilla. Luca needs little introduction in the rum world, his vision and passion having enabled us to taste exciting rums that would otherwise have remained obscure and hidden from the world. Gianni is best known for his grappas and fruit distillates, seeking out rare techniques and exquisite fruits around Europe to produce the finest quality distillates on the planet.
Luca & Gianni had long believed that Marie Galante offered the finest cane and were saddened that a shift towards increased efficiency & commercialisation had resulted in the island losing it's last functioning pot still some years back. After extensive planning, in 2010 this dynamic duo managed to ship and install a stunning Muller pot still within the Bielle rhum estate. The collaboration with Bielle allowed them access to outstanding cane to use in their newly established (and completely un-googleable) brand Rhum Rhum.
Sadly, the relationship with Bielle ended around 2017 so this bottling is now extremely rare.
Nose: A firm favourite of mine. The nose is super fresh and exciting. Cane juice rum at it’s best. Lashings of clean grassiness - beautifully floral with rock like minerality. Zest and citrus fruit. Spearmint. Kaffir lime leaves. Classy rum.
I love really dirty rum like a clairin Sajous but there will always be a place on my bar for a perfectly made clean Agricole and this is about as good an example as you get.
Mouth: Rich, mouth coating. Lovely citrus forward fruit – with the addition of sweet summer fruits. Those kaffir limes too. A solid minerally core that lingers beautifully. Delicate. An ideal sweet & dry balance. [90pts]
Rhum Rhum PMG 2021 (Poission / Pere Labat) – 56%
(Identifiable from a dimple in the base I believe)
Chapter 2 in the Rhum Rhum saga...
At the end of chapter 1 we left our heroes - Luca and Gianni - roaming around Marie Galante, homeless, dragging their Muller pot still on a trailer behind them.
Happily, after a couple of years on the local dirt tracks they came knocking at Poisson distillery, home of the legendary Pere Labat, and a Rhum Rhum found a new home...
Nose: Slightly drier. Sharper. Earthier. Slight less of the ‘high notes’ – the fresh floral minerality. An edge of dry Riesling, definitely more earthiness, and a sniff less warmth and complexity. Very little in it. More lemon, less lime leaves. Tiny differences but they’re there.
Mouth: As suggested by the nose, this is a more grassy, more earthy, less floral rum. However the taste is not lacking warmth or complexity at all – a lovely rounded tasty rum. Different but almost equally delicious. [89pts]
Habitation Velier Muller LL IV/3177 - 59%
A very, very limited release as part of the Habitation Velier series. This Rhum was made using the Muller pot still (beautifully illustrated on the bottle) during it's tenure at Bielle. I believe it was fermented for a little longer than the Rhum Rhum version but can't find much information on the specifics.
Nose: Finally I get to try this. A rum with a true cult following – and sadly a unicorn. Will it live up to the hype…?
Damn, it certainly does on the nose. First-off, the slight addition in abv is noticeable. Presenting a slightly bigger and more aggressive start, that quickly clears to leave everything from the PMG and more. More spicy, more of the lovely floral minerality, more kaffir lime leaves. A little more funky too. A touch of pear drops. Still clean, crisp and zesty though. Really stunning.
Mouth: Wow – spearmint sweets. A massive fresh zesty rum. Shifting to refreshers - those chalky sweet zesty mouth tingling sweets. And pear drops too. Slightly concerned there might be a little too much spearmint. The floral and mineral aspects are certainly still there but the overall profile is maybe a touch less balanced. A bigger rum than the two PMG, really moorish but the dominance of the spearmint candy impacts that overall balance and stops me giving it a higher score. [89pts]
Bielle – 59%
The standard, column stilled rhum from Bielle. Made using the revered local cane and an absolute bargain (under £30).
Nose: Good clean nose but not quite matching the complexity of the first three. No faults, no negatives at all. Just less of the exciting positives. Less floral. A bit less interesting. A tasty and inviting unaged cane juice rum, clearly made from superb quality cane. Just a bit less – possible a result of column still rather than the Muller pot still. Minerally, zesty, grassy. Yum
Mouth: A stunning rum. Absolutely incredible value. Floral, spearmint, kaffir lime leaves, decent minerality. Classic Bielle. A smidge less depth, richness & complexity than the Rhum rhum – inevitably down to the still, but an outstanding rhum. [88pts]
Bielle Canne Gris – 59%
Made using a specific rare cane varietal.
Nose: Even less floral than the standard Bielle. More mineral. Spearmint and clean zest. A touch muted compared to the others.
Mouth: Spicy. Very minty. Not really working for me. The aftertaste is a bit like toothpaste. Seems to have lost the balance and complexity. A touch of zest and a bit floral but overall. Slight grassiness. Small changes but a profound overall impact. [83pts]
Pere Labat – 59%
The standard, column stilled rhum from Poisson. Made using the distinct local cane and also priced at an absolute bargain (under £30).
Nose: Quite a step change. More peppermint than spearmint. And rhubarb? Much earthier than the others. Much more the flavours I usually associate with unaged cane juice rum. Of the highest order! Super inviting.
Mouth: A staple at the secret rum bar, and for very good reason. Proper cane juice rum. Quite unbelievable value for the price. The balance of floral, mint, zest, earthiness, minerality are quite different to Bielle but equally good. A much more deep earthy, grassy style of rum – balanced, complex, complete, excellent. [88pts]
A number of variable in play today. Bielle vs Labat & Pot vs Column being the most interesting for me today. Obviously I also have the alternate variety canne gris from Bielle but my focus is on the distillery and the still.
Distillery-wise, Bielle has a slightly more floral nose than the earthy Labat. And I’d say spearmint nose on the Bielle vs peppermint on the Labat.
Bielle definitely Kaffir lime leaves, Labat has some zest but it’s overwhelmed but the earthy grassy notes.
Shifting from column to the pot still in both cases adds extra depth. And a touch of funkiness. I’m definitely picking out the same Bielle & Labat flavours, but with added richness and more complexity.
The Muller HV bottling takes things up another level again. Some extra pear drops and estery sweetness. Outstanding. Although I found it marginally less well balanced than the PMG.
At under £30 each, if you don't already have a bottle of both the standard Bielle and Pere Labat then that's something to remedy for 2022!
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year all. Cheers