Cape Verde Grogue Rums Review
Grogue - an artisan craft sugarcane spirit produced on the Cape Verde islands. This historic rum has reportedly been produced on the Portuguese islands for almost 500 years!! What is in no doubt - Grogue is deeply embedded in Cape Verde's culture.
Produced from fresh local sugar cane, crushed on unique press called a trapiche (a very cool circular ox driven contraption - well worth looking up on YouTube) and distilled on tiny direct-fire pot stills. Grogue is fundamentally artisanal with hundreds of micro-distillers producing tiny quantities of spirit in villages across the islands.
The majority is drunk neat or in Cape Verde's local 'ponche' (punch), Grogue is most closely comparable to aguardente de cana from Madeira.
Historically the tiny annual production of this unique spirit could only be discovered via a trip the the islands (located south of Madeira, just west of Senegal and Gambia, in the mid Atlantic). Thankfully growing interest in unique spirits has created sufficient demand to drive producers and bottlers to make a selection available to mainland European markets.
Total I'm tasting a small cluster of samples from 4 different independent bottlers. My first 'in van' tasting! Missing the bar today but overall van life is proving fun, and we've slipped into a pretty good routine. For anyone interested more detail on this craziness; I'm mid way through an article on our first few months finding our feet with van life, hopefully will get that out soon.
5 drams, 20ml of each, left to open up for 15mins, nosed first then tasted, in increasing abv order. Assisted today by some absolute bangers from Yazoo - via my headphones so that no nosy buggers call the bizzies on us for van living on the road :-)
Left to right - unaged M&G, Old Bros, aged M&G, Barbosa, Ferroni
M&G Grogue Natural 2020, 44%, 639 bottles
Produced in the tiny village of 'Tarrafal de Monte Trigo' on the SW corner of Cabo Verde's dry northern island of Santo Antao. This isolated oasis village is a located at the base of a steep green valley amongst an otherwise vast arid landscape.
The fact that a village (of 841 people) exists here at all is amazing. It has been continually inhabited since early 1700s, has 5 tiny artisan distilleries and yet the only paved access road wasn't finished until 2021!
Their grogue is produced from organic local cane, wild fermented for a hefty 10-15 days and then distilled over a direct fired pot still to a strength of 45%.
After production it's rested for about a month in large demi-johns.
For more detail I highly recommend a well researched and super interesting article from the sagacious Lone Caner (here)
Nose: Upfront brine, quite vegetal. Then a lovely grassiness which quickly moves over to present a menthol/fennel edge. Wrapping up with good fruit - some citrus and lots of guava. A bright nose with impressive concentration for 44%
Mouth: Strong lemon zest followed by surprisingly sweet pear & guava. The finish is all olives with splash of menthol, camphor and resin. Mouthfeel is a touch thin at the end but flavour is long and bold. Didn't live up to the promises on the nose but a very decent sipper [82+pts]
Old Brothers x Bear's House Grogue Tarrafal 44.6°
A long fermented grogue from the French independent bottler Old Brothers.
Produced with 7-14 days natural fermentation at a tiny distillery on the west coast of the island of Santo Antão
Nose: When compared to the M&G my notes say - less fennel, less fruit, lots of savoury earthy green tomato, very vegetal.
Mouth: Sour lychee and sharp green lemon. Very different to the sweeter, fruitier M&G. Interesting and fun although not a rum I'd want to sip much of. I am actually tempted to pick up a bottle simply because it's so unique but I doubt I'd reach for it that often [82pts]
Velier Barbosa Grogue, 45%
Produced at the Monte Negro distillery on the larger, greener main Cape Verde island of Santiago. This distillery and this rum were selected by Velier as a Grogue to add to their extensive range of rums.
6-10 days fermentation precedes distillation on an open fire alambic pot still
Nose: A huge nose. Sweet smoke, olives and rice wine reminiscent of Paranubes. Some cherry fruit. And a bit of a weird sweet spicy cheese flavour completes the strangeness.
Mouth: Disappointingly thin compared to the huge nose. A little spice, lots of smokey brine. The bitter herbaceousness from the nose is there but far too dialled down.
A short rather washed out finish of weird funky tomato & cucumber water.
Promised so much with the wild weird nose but it just dies on the palate. I'll stick to Paranubes [80-pts]
M&G Grogue Velha 2yr, 2017, 45.1%. 320 bottles
Back to the tiny village of 'Tarrafal de Monte Trigo' on Cape Verde's dry northern island of Santo Antao.
The same cane juice output tasted earlier, this time aged in their very limited number of ex-red wine casks for 2 years.
This M&G has also been well reviewed by the Lone Caner (here).
Nose: Creamy and buttery. Dark cane fruit and berries. With an undertone of grassiness and brine. Very inviting.
Mouth: Impressive depth and balance. The brine, red fruit and vanilla cream work unexpectedly well together. I feel like the short aging was ideal - adding an extra dimension without muting the fresh bright flavours of the cane juice. Classy, and yet still fun. [83+pts]
Ferroni La Dame Jeanne, Rhum Cabo Verde, 57%
A bit of an imposter here. I read online that this was distilled twice on the islands and then redistilled by the importer once it arrived in France. Hence the punchy 57% abv. [I suspect this isn't officially grogue]
Will all the messing around have add something or killed it's provenance?
Nose: Raspberry chocolate with a hint of honey! Then a sort of green underripe herb & sweet spice. And finally a bit of an artificial detergent smell.
Mouth: More grappa than rum taste. Heavy spice (clove & nutmeg). And a touch of liquorice. Strong without being harsh, but it's just boozy - not enough flavour. Tastes like a good grappa. Not bad but not rummy enough or interesting enough for me. [82-pts]
A really interesting and fun tasting for my first 'in van' review. A win for the two M&G entrants, and another location to add to rum explorers travel list!