Epic Mhoba - Round 1 'Glass Cask'
Updated: Apr 16
The first round of an epic knockout Mhoba tasting. Which of these four will go through to the final??
A teaser of what's to come, here's the full line-up ...
Mhoba needs absolutely no introduction, the first South African rum distillery to firmly establish itself in the spirits hall of fame. A ground-breaking 'farm to shop' micro distillery based in Mpumalanga formally established in 2015. Robert Greaves' innovative techniques and unique self built still have quickly wowed the rum world with some outstanding results.
Fresh cane juice rum. Indigenous Nkomazi cane from the fields around the distillery is crushed on site using Robert's uniquely designed crusher before being long fermented and then distilled on another engineering self build triumph - his bespoke pot stills.
Two years ago I did my first Mhoba tasting review (here). Since then we have seen a veritable tidal wave of outstanding new releases, including a large number of independent barrel picks and bottlings. So the time has come to put the cream of the crop head to head in this 4 part knockout tasting.
For further reading on Mhoba, I nudge you towards excellent articles (and an interview with Roberts Greaves) by uber-bloggers Lone Caner and RumRevelations. As well, of course, to the Mhoba website.
Clearly I have not included every Mhoba bottling in this epic tasting. I've tried to pick the best available to me but I'm already aware of at least one new release that I need to try. So, happy days - I will have to do this again in another 2 years :-)
Round one is dedicated to 'glass cask' - rums that Robert aged in large glass demijohns with charred oak staves. Robert describes himself as a "stave ageing fundamentalist" and is quoted as saying that "stave-ageing could produce a spirit just as good as anything aged in a cask".
20ml of each, left to open up for 40mins (as I got distracted reading an excellent interview with Dead Reckoning's Justin Boseley by 88 Bamboo). Nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order. Assisted today by the mesmeric sounds of Jamie Lidell.
Left to right, as per the lead picture, 1802v1, Glass cask, 1802v2, 151
Mhoba Cellar Selection for 1802 Bar Paris, 6yr, 59%, 36btls
A very special start to a very special tasting. This is both the oldest and by far the rarest bottle. Just 36 were ever made in a first 'barrel' pick for the outstanding 1802 Monte Cristo Bar in Paris. Some were auctioned for charity, the rest were available to sample at the bar. Aged for a huge 6 years in a glass demijohn with charred white oak staves.
Nose: A rich, creamy, gluey entry. Lots of candied tropical guava & lychee and vanilla custard. Heady, spicy banana flambee with toasted coconut shavings. Some liquorice, and pencil shavings. Easily mistaken for Jamaican. A full bodied, naturally sweet and inviting nose. Superb integration and depth.
Mouth: A real grower - starts quietly and then builds within your mouth. A symphony of tropical fruit and sweet esters. Lovely oily texture. A good balance of the sweet funky tropical fruit and light vanilla oak. Warming, well integrated alcohol. A zesty, floral spice and chewy glue provide a long outstanding finish with just a hint of tobacco. Beautiful [89+pts]
Mhoba Glass Cask 60%, 2yr, 96btls
The regular 'glass cask' release from Mhoba. Batches are individually marked, this appears to the be the second release from 2019 [2019GC2]. These form part of Mhoba's established line-up and are aged for more than 2 years in large glass demijohns with virgin American white oak staves which are cut and charred on wood fire coals at the distillery. I think I've seen some more recent releases being bottled at 65%?
Nose: Classy. clean with a heft of balanced esters. Some lovely pear drops and a side order of lychee. Leather - like a freshly upholstered car interior. And wood varnish.
Second taste is even better. Liquorice, pineapple and sawdust. Very good
Mouth: This is excellent. Big oily mouth feel. Rich, treacly layers of tropical fruit. Tonnes of big funky esters, but balanced and complex. A slight sharpness associated with it's youth. A young, fresh and exciting rum - well made and with a decent oaked backbone.
The taste ends with a long fruity, grassy, estery finish. As others have said - a lovechild of big Jamaican funk and Martinique freshness. [88pts]
Mhoba Cellar Selection for 1802 Bar Paris, ?yrs, 63.5%, 72btls
A second 'barrel' pick for 1802 Monte Cristo Bar in Paris. Some of these were available to sample at the bar, others were sold at Excellence Rhum. Another tiny release (just 72 bottles).
This rum was initially aged in a glass demijohn with charred white oak staves, and later transferred to a French oak ex-South African brandy cask for a further year. Notably the first Mhoba rum to be double matured in this way.
Nose: Yum, yum. A bigger and maybe more complex nose than the previous 1802 selection, although possible not as beautiful. Deeper, dryer candy - the year in brandy cask making itself well known. Signature Mhoba esters at the start with massive lingering pear drop finish. The extra few % abv are unmissable but still pretty well integrated.
Mouth: A whirlwind trip round an old fashioned sweet shop. Pear drops, cough candy twists and more - all accompanied by a dusting of spicy cardamom and dry, almost metallic tannin. And a touch of salted chocolate. The signature Mhoba esters (that I've yet to find a perfect way to describe) are lurking but slightly masked.
Some bitterness in the background - a fruity bitterness like cranberry and grapefruit peel. Possibly a touch harsh on the abv front, feels like this could benefit from a drop or two of water but overall an absolute triumph [88+pts]
Mhoba Strand 151, 75.5% [2021ss1]
A second regular release from Mhoba's standard line. This overproof monster is a blend of the 'Glass Cask' rum also tasted today, along with Mhoba's 'High Ester White Rum'. The blend was suggested by Danish rum expert Knud Strand, and graciously named after him. I previously reviewed the lower abv Strand 101 (here).
Nose: A huge, heady assault of the nostrils. The blend is working just as intended. I love Mhoba's high ester white rum, but it's too much for me neat. This provides a lovely balance of oaked, refined 2yr glass cask - lifted by the face slap of long fermented high ester madness.
Mouth: Small sips here. Obviously! And a taste that goes on forever. Again the blend of High Ester and Glass Cask making magic.
Gluey ester bomb meets spicy, grassy, young vanilla oak. A little astringent on the finish but oh boy what an experience. Imagine a pour of mango lassi sitting comfortably beside burnt rubber and sweet caramel smoke. [87+pts]
Conclusion - a close contest in the 'glass cask' semi final. The first three rums may all sit within a point of each other, but I assure you they are all very different - and very special.
Strand 151 is an absolutely must try - with caution :-) but not quite hitting the levels of the 3 'pure' glass cask (ie: not blended with anything else).
The overly bitter finish on the otherwise more interesting 2nd 1802 release cost it a point and the win, to the absolutely beautiful 1st 1802 release which we shall see again in the final!