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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Neisson - The Big Tasting!

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

Neisson - cane juice rhum from Martinique. Cool looking rectangular bottles. That's about where my knowledge and experience ends - what you can read on the bottle!

Regulars to the blog will know that I'm a champion of unaged cane juice rums - having given many very positive reviews. Whereas their aged counterparts have often left me underwhelmed. Many have not worked for me at all with only a small selection (eg: Rasta Morris Bielle 8yr & Mhoba French cask) really wowing me. So today's tasting, that I've been looking forward to for several months, could be a serious anti-climax!

A brief google certainly explains the cult following for Neisson! One of only two remaining family owned distilleries on Martinique. A small, artisan rhum producer - using locally grown non-hybrid traditional cane varieties. Neisson's standard fermentation is the longest of all the major French island distilleries at 72 hours - maximising the congeners before distilling using a very old and traditional copper Savalle column still. The still being majority powered in the traditional way - by burning the bagasse (chaff left after crushing the cane).

Neisson produces Rhum Agricole - a designation reserved for (amongst others) the rhums from Martinique which (under their AOC) must abide by certain very stringent and quality focussed standards in both cultivation and production techniques. Great news for the consumer who gets the reassurance of a minimum quality level, without having to do any digging or research.

The angel's share in Martinique is one of the most extreme at over 16% per year. Meaning that the 15 year rhum in today's lineup will have seen a loss of over 92% !! When combined with the small scale artisanal production techniques, this very clearly justifies the high prices of some of these rhums.

Enough jibber-jabber, time to drink some rhum!

Eight rhums, 20ml of each, left to open up for about 25mins (considerably longer for the last few). Nosed first, and then tasted, in increasing abv order. Which today put the unaged in 5th & 8th slots - this seems a little odd but I feel confident it's the right move.

Today's tasting is assisted by some pretty groovy tracks from Walter Beasley.

Le Rhum VIEUX par Neisson, 45%, £50

A blend of rhums aged 3-9yrs. A new rhum released to mark the distillery's 85th anniversary. Partly aged in French oak barrels and partly in ex-bourbon American oak. A light bronze colour.

Nose: A light-ish nose. Some heat at first from, I assume, the younger rhums in the blend. Citrus zest early on, but any sharp citrus fades quickly. Some butter. Baked nuts. Weak marzipan. A little overripe tropical fruit. Spicy wet oak. Old newspapers. All good, if a little wanting in terms of depth. A touch too much wet wood for me. Lots of positive flavours and complexity - just nothing in there standing bold enough.

Mouth: A wishy washy taste. Lacks focus. There's nothing bad, it's just thin. Some buttery, nuttiness. Light fruit. A little acetone. Honey water. Summer fruit. It's all ok. But just ok. [81pts]

Neisson 15 ans - Batch 3, 48.7%%, £300

Produced way back in 2004. Aged at the distillery for a breath-taking 15 years with an angel's share of over 90%! Can't find a count of bottles released but I doubt it's many!

Spectacular bright gold colour.

Nose: Wow - a big heady nose. Initially a load of salty iodine. The oak influence is massive. Bitter. A predictably dry nose. Nutty caramel, but quite savoury - maybe a savoury nougat. Salty liquorice. Beautifully boozy - almost heading towards Armagnac. Leather and raisins. I've just realised that the heavy initial oak is softening. Loads of toasted nuts. Even a little tropical fruit in the background. Could end up being too dry, although there's a hint of old fashioned sweets (maybe cola cubes) lurking somewhere mostly out of sight - looking forward to finding out...

Mouth: Well it works. It's really soft in the mouth. Bring all that leather armchair, dried fruit, toasted nutty goodness - and marrying it with an underlying freshness that keeps all the old tannins tightly in focus. And an unexpected cola & ester sweetness. Very enjoyable, and the lingering finish is delicious. Looking critically, it's not as big or bold as I'd hope. Especially for the price. It's very very well made, and super clean, but there's gaps on the pallet and not enough wow factor for me. [86+pts]

Neisson Élevé Sous Bois, 50%, £35

Matured for 18 months in oak casks. A very light white wine colour.

Nose: Complete step change from the 15yr. This is light, with lots of cane influence. A little honey. Not enough depth. Some not very appealing dampness. A touch of spice, maybe clove & cinnamon. Plus a very slight hint of vanilla from the oak. And some paint thinner. Not enough of anything, except the dampness - too much of that!

Mouth: The dampness carries through on pallet. Tastes like I've been chewing on old wet newspaper. It's not all bad - there's some lovely delicate honeyed fruit. A little cane. Some nice spice. Overall, too light and the wet wood doesn't work. [80pts]

Le Rhum XO par Neisson - Batch 2, 50.8%, £175. 914btls

An XO or 'extra old' release from Neisson. This limited edition 'full proof' version is more than twice the price of the regular XO release. A blend of two barrels from 2005 (70%) & 2007 (30%). Aged for 13 & 11 years respectively at the distillery. Just 914 bottles produced.

Bright gold/amber again - beautiful.

Nose: Another heady bold rhum. Old cut grass. Lots of oak, although less of the wet oak this time. Green apples. Some saltiness, less iodine. Very dry. An enjoyable floral side. Loads of toasted nuts. Some cigar box. Dry but overall very enjoyable. The drier oak makes this more inviting than the 15.

Mouth: To use a stupid expression that I hate in reviews - it drinks very very easily. The reason I'm comfortable saying that today, is because the initial and mid taste disappear in a flash. It's really sadly lacking. Nothing bad, just not enough. The finish is lovely. Long, complex, warm, nutty, deep and rich. [85+pts]

Le Rhum Agricole Blanc par Neisson - Batch 2, 52.5%, £40

Their standard unaged continuous release. Widely available. Produced from local cane and bottled, unaged, at a healthy 52.5%. Crystal clear.

Nose: I'll be honest - this is the first rhum of the lineup to make me really smile. Having this unaged zesty cane forward interlude from the heavy uber-dry oaky rhums is an enjoyable change. A little acetone works really well with the big spicy honeyed cane fruit. Really clean and quite herbal. Grassy in all the good ways. Yum.

Mouth: Everything I want from an unaged agricole. Fresh, clean, really complex and interesting. A little spicy. Perfect fruit. Great level of esters. Super long finish. Really impressed. [88pts]

Neisson Profil 105 bio, 53.3%, £75

The first organic rhum released by Neisson, back in 2016. It was aged in 400L oak casks in the hot climate of the island. Unable to find the duration of aging. 105 is (apparently) the code of char level of these casks. Light chardonnay colour.

Nose: A short nose - if that makes any sense. Super clean - some pepperiness. Pears. Buttery. Spicy - cinnamon. Burnt sugar. Burnt cane. A touch of plastic. A little walnut and pecan. A pear and pecan crème brûlée, with a sprinkle of salt. Pretty decent - although it's so short you've pretty much forgotten what it smelt like by the time you put the glass down.

Mouth: Spicy pear drops. Just the right hint of bitterness. Incredibly creamy and indulgent. Fresh estery cane zest, balanced perfectly with creamy spicy vanilla. I can't believe it - a lightly aged agricole that I like - a lot! More please! [88pts]

Neisson 10yr - Velier 70th anniverary, 58.1%, £300, 500btls

A well aged and extremely rare cask strength rhum. Released in collaboration with the prestigious bottler Velier to commemorate their 70th anniversary. Over 80% angel's share on this one!

Nose: Surprisingly sharp, and spicy. Even a hit of white wine vinegar. Very drying tannins from the oak. Slightly-off nuts. Hot pepper spice. Some dark berry fruit. Very intriguing. Is certainly making my mouth water. Keen to get to the tastings.

Mouth: A lot going on here. Big tannic bitter oak to start. Stewed tea. Then a little dark fruit and those toasted walnuts. Dark bitter chocolate. Caramel. A splash of esters and overripe pineapple. And a lingering sweet nutty finish. I really like it. [89+pts]

Neisson L'Esprit Rhum Agricole Blanc, 70%, £65

Released annually in very limited quantities this rhum is not aged in oak but is rested for 6 months in steel tanks before bottling at an eye watering 70%! For me, one of the most beautiful bottles in today's lineup - the opaque finish screams try me if you dare!

Nose: Whoop whoop. A round of applause for whoever made this crazy monster. It's absolutely beautiful. A ladle of rotten fruit and veg. A big handful of very salty olives. And, weirdly, fresh tropical fruit salad... and cream. All smothered with shoe polish. And this weird sounding mess isn't just good - it's bloody spectacular. It's got everything - earthiness, sweet esters, the lot.

Mouth: I've just been tango'd! I'm grinning like a Cheshire cat. Possibly the best unaged rhum, or rum, I've ever tried. It's walking the tightrope of perfectly made, stunning quality and excitingly different. Flavour wise, what hasn't it got - pear drops, cola cubes, tannins, a little bitters, loads of spice, honey'd cane, sweet esters, polish, acetone. Everything you'd want and more, all perfectly balanced. [91pts]

Overall ...

Nose - Of the 3 heavily aged (and significantly more expensive) rhums... on the nose, the Velier 10 is probably the boldest and most inviting, closely followed by the XO.

Of the 3 with lighter aging, the nose of the Profil105 is head & shoulders above the other two.

Both of the unaged smell awesome - although the L'Esprit monster has stolen my heart at this stage.

Mouth - If you're looking to drop a huge pile of cash on a long aged agricole then the Velier 10 is the pick of these three. An incredible experience to try this.

Of the short aged, I wasn't expecting to like any but will be hunting the profil bio - surprising! delicious!

Unaged - buy both, now!

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