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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Madeira Rums - 5 distillery, unaged, head-to-head review

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

All 5 Madeira distilleries, a cracking bottle from each, how do they measure up?

The third article in our Madeira series. The first provided an overview to rum travel and the fascinating rum history in Madeira (here). Second was an in-depth guide to the island's distilleries and rum bars (here). Now, finally, it's time for some rum :-)

With its tropical climate, it will be no surprise that all 5 of Madeira's distilleries solely produce rum from fresh crushed cane juice rather than molasses.

Today I have selected what I believe to be the one of the best examples of unaged rum from each distillery to go head-to-head.

Left to open up for 15 mins then, as always, nosed first, and tasted, in increasing abv order. Assisted today by the superlative Creedence Clearwater Revival!

Engenhos do Norte - Pot Still, 46.6%, 2808 btls

A limited-edition release from Porto da Cruz's historic distillery. With their current range of aged releases all being produced on the column still, I was very interested to try this 100% pot still rum.

Nose: A proper, earthy cane juice rum. Close your eyes and you're transported to the terraced fields in Madeira. Salty, sweet, slightly fruity cane juice notes intermingle with what can only be described as 'enjoyable' manure. Even hints of sulphur. NB: I have only just opened the bottle today so it will be interesting to see if this changes over the course of the tasting. A warm pleasing nose with beautifully integrated alcohol. [no change after another 30 mins]

Mouth: A slightly weird taste. Absolutely loads going on. Can't decide if I like it. Tastes like it noses. A confusing melee of sulphuric earthiness, cane fruit, brine, salt and spice. A mid length bittersweet cane finish. A smidge thin on the mouth feel. Screams daiquiri, not quite working as a sipper. [81+pts]

Engenho da Calheta - Aguardente de Cana, 50%

The only unaged 'rum' I can find from Calheta's ancient distillery. Recognised around the island as a fine poncha rum, this is easily the cheapest of the rums on review today, available on the island for around EUR12 per 1L bottle.

Nose: A touch sweeter and perhaps less complex that Engenho do Norte. Alcohol level is a small step up and poorly integrated resulting in quite an aggressive nose. Leaves me wondering if the Engenho do Norte rum was rested and perhaps this wasn't. Classic, if a touch one dimensional, cane juice rum.

Mouth: Far too aggressive but if you find your way past the fire, it's very tasty. Spicy, clean cane juice rum. Definitely not a sipper, but at 12eur a litre this would be a permanent cocktail ingredient behind my bar. The rest of the bottle shall fulfil its destiny in ponchas :-) [80pts]

O Reizinho Distillery, bottled by That Boutique-y Rum Company, 57%, 484 btls

A limited edition second TBRC release of pot stilled, unaged cane juice rum from the tiny artisan producer.

Amusingly adorned with the olive king and bottled in Boutique-y's familiar stubby 500ml bottles.

Nose: 7% higher abv yet a softer nose than the Calheta. Very inviting brine and liquorice. You can immediately see why the olive king adorns the label - perhaps pimento olives as I'm definitely getting spice, and a touch of zest. Beautifully saline. A fun and very inviting nose.

Mouth: Lovely lovely lovely. Massive gloopy mouthfeel. Warm deep rum. Some fruit showing up - sort of banana puree. A wonderfully different, dry, salty blast of anise and liquorice. If you prefer sweeter rums or don't like liquorice, then look away. I love it [84+]

Vinha Alta - Balancal Rum, 59.3%, 729 btls

Another squat 500ml bottle, this tine containing a unique double distilled offering from the new kid on the block, Vinha Alta.

The first rum distilled by the guys from VA spirits, this juice started life being slow fermented using wine yeast, before being first distilled on Engenhos do Norte's pot still. Subsequently, just the hearts of the cut were selected and transported to VA's warehouse on the southwest of the island where it was second distilled on their beautiful little copper hybrid still.

Nose: The most laid back of the line-up so far. A sweet, slightly buttery, rich, deep and complex nose. Incredibly clean. The alcohol is superbly integrated, you'd never guess you were nosing a 60% rum. A beautiful, light, floral, even slightly perfumed nose. Sweet earthiness with a hint of rich tropical fruit. Noses as if someone has warmed the glass - really impressive depth. Looking forward to tasting it.

Mouth: Yum. That's very very good. As with the nose, clean, really beautiful. Lots of layers, like peeling an onion, floral, then crisp green apple, buttery biscuits, and on to tropical fruit. Pomegranates. Very moorish. Some menthol and just a pinch of salt. Everything very well balanced. I look forward to trying this in cocktails but it's a stunning quality sipper too. Easily the most complete and most complex of the line-up. [90pts]

Engenho Novo - William Hinton 'natural', 69%, 2500btls

A naturally fermented, limited release from back in 2017. Engenho Novo are equipped with both column and pot stills, this was confirmed as coming from the column still.

I picked up a bottle of this rum in a Madeira supermarket for about £20 - what a bargain!

Nose: An unsurprisingly big, bold nose. Aggressive alcohol greets you from the off - although not as harsh as 69% suggests. Deep, fruity and lovely dry spice. A touch of dark fruit working well with the freshness of the cane juice and a background of minerality & earthiness. Marginally less depth and complexity when compared to the Balancal or the O Reizinho.

Mouth: Pretty punchy drunk neat (what did I expect!). Rich dark fruit, slightly honeyed spice. Very zesty. Pickle juice. Pleasantly perfumed. A splash of acetone. Big, flavour-packed cane juice rum. Very tasty, not quite balanced enough to be a true sipper but will undoubtedly pack a huge cane juice punch into any cocktail. [83+pts]

Conclusion: Easy conclusion here, get some unaged Madeira rum! The standouts of the line-up were the outstanding Balancal and the really different but also excellent O'Reizinho. I have since used all five in cocktails and without exception they scream quality and raise the bar on any cocktail looking for a cane juice rum. 2023 - the year to get your Madeira rum ponchas, daiquiris and mai tai's on!

Stay tuned for the final Madeira instalment - a vast line-up of quick-fire aged rum reviews!

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