Australian rum has seen a rise in popularity in rum enthusiast circles recently. So much so that I might be daring and use the word ‘hype’? Quite a few years ago, the only Australian rum people knew about was Bundaberg or…Bundy. Not exactly something to be proud of, as they certainly aren’t known for producing rums that make the rum sipper’s heart beat any faster. A few more Australian distilleries have now popped up as regular mentions in rum jargon. None more than Beenleigh.
Beenleigh claims to be the oldest registered distillery in Australia, dating back to 1884. They use a 15000 liter copper pot still that has been in use since 1887. On their website they mention it has a shape and style known as a vat still, similar to the Port Mourant in Guyana. It’s the only one of its kind in Australia. Sounds like they are justifiably proud of their pot still. No proper photo of it on their website, surprisingly. Also no mention on their site about the column still they use. Their site seems to be geared more towards tourists than to rum enthusiasts. Tripadvisor is a better source for Beenleigh equipment photos. They age their rum for a minimum of 2 years, as younger rum can’t be called rum in Australia.
The Australian Excise Act 1901 states the following:
“Brandy, whisky or rum manufactured in Australia must not be delivered from the CEO’s control unless it has been matured by storage in wood for at least 2 years.”
“Rum means a spirit obtained by the distillation of a fermented liquor derived from the products of sugar cane, being distillation carried out in such a manner that the spirit possesses the taste, aroma and other characteristics generally attributed to rum.”
My first thought with that 2nd point is…attributed by who? Rather flexible.
It looks like rum broker Scheer in Amsterdam is selling a lot of Australian rum, going by the amount of independent bottlers that have put Australian expressions on the market in the past few years. Last time I visited Scheer, Carsten Vlierboom confirmed there has been a sharp rise in demand from rum down under. Thanks to all these bottlers I have been able to sample a few expressions and I have to admit not being impressed by any of them so far. This is strange in a way, as I see a lot of them being praised, even by people who’s palates I trust. It could just be me. Everyone’s palate is different and mine might simply not be tuned into the Australian rum style, if there is such a thing. I figured I’d try again.
Three releases against each other. Velier Beenleigh 2006 at 59% with 15 years of ageing in Australia. Luca Gargano has build up a strong reputation of releasing incredible rums, so I have high hopes. Valinch & Mallet 12 yr at 54.8%, with 10 years of ageing in Australia, couple years in Europe. As with quite a few independent bottlers, I find their releases very hit and miss so far. The last contestant is a Transcontinental Rum Line Australia 2013, 6yr at 48%. This was aged 4 years in Australia and two in Europe.
A note on the Velier release. The label states:”Distilled in a single column and redistilled in our copper pot still. Triple wood maturation for 15 years”. The wood is ex-Brandy vats, then 1st fill ex-Bourbon and then into their 120 year old Kauri Pine maturation vats. I don’t know how large these vessels are, but the term “vats” always makes me question how much impact they have had on the ageing and the validity of the age statement. Massive vats don’t impact the spirit as much as smaller barrels.
When it comes to the production process, I asked Mr. #Needmorebeenleigh himself, Steve Magarry. Until recently he was Beenleigh’s distillery manager. He mentioned the following:”It is column and pot, historically based on the bourbon process, balancing efficiency and flavour. Beenleigh is not engineered to do double pot. It was double pot vat still from the 1890s until the late 1970s. Only pot and column since 2004.”
The tasting was done semi blind in the first session. I know which rums, but not in which order. The 2nd session wasn’t blind, as I wanted to taste them in a different order.
Very oaky, nutmeg, mineral stones, black pepper, mint chocolate like After Eight, light pine. It’s mildly fruity that turns somewhat red candy like then turns towards sickening…aka baby vomit. It’s a light nose.
A good start with fresh paint, oak, light sulphur, crayon, orange peel, wet woody molasses, chocolate, red wine, blackberry. Gets better the longer you leave it, but still a bit on the flat side in the end.
Oak, fresh paint, candle wax, cinnamon, raisins, cigar box, molasses, smoky wood, caramel. Another light nose, but a nice one at that. Interestingly, it wasn’t as light in the 2nd session I did.
Narrow win for 3, then 2, 1 is quite far behind.
Raspberry candy, pepper, oak, light chocolate and molasses. Short finish with more bubble gum types of flavours that are blended with wood spice. Reminds me of the bad kind of Panama rum. Finish is short and a whole lot of nothing.
Oak, molasses, chocolate, tobacco, some sweetness, orange peel. Finish is long without a lot of bitterness. Quite nice. It’s rounder and more intense than the other 2.
Super light, should double check the abv after. Mint, oak, pepper, molasses. Short finish, slightly bitter. Alcoholic water with wood flavour. Not much else worth mentioning.
It’s not unpleasant, but it doesn’t do anything for me either. I can think of so many other rums I’d like to be drinking instead. Actually, I’d rather drink a healthy glass of water. Drinking below its abv is great when it’s packed with flavour, but that’s not the case here.
Rum 1: Transcontinental Rum Line Australia 2013
Rum 2: Velier Beenleigh 2006
Rum 3: Valinch & Mallet 12 years
Despite me not really liking Beenleigh rum so far, I enjoyed the noses of the Velier and Valinch & Mallet. Slightly on the flat side, but still enough good things to explore. That doesn’t carry through much on the palate though. Which is disappointing. The Velier is the most robust and interesting one. It’s round and has some intensity, but I keep wishing there was more to it. The tropical ageing and the different casks likely saved it somewhat.
The Valinch & Mallet is not the worst tasting one of the three, but it’s the most disappointing one. The gap between nose and palate is the largest. It’s thin and has very little complexity. When I was tasting this in the blind session I thought I was drinking something 40% or below. In my tasting notebook I wrote down:”waste of money”. If I wanted to be nice about it, I’d describe it as a light easy sipper. But the total lack of complexity makes it too expensive to be that positive. It shows that ageing in a hot climate isn’t the beginning and end all of things. Put something average in a barrel and it will still not be guaranteed to turn into a gem after 10 years in a hot climate.
I’ll be fairly short about the 6 year old Transcontinental. It’s dreadful. Well, no that’s too harsh. Dreadful is reserved for the Millionarios out there. It’s very average at best. Did nothing for me on nose and palate. Thin with off putting candy like smells and tastes. Not for me.
I sure don’t #Needmorebeenleigh, sadly.
Transcontinental Australia 6 years – 45
Velier Beenleigh 2006 – 71
Valinch & Mallet 12 years – 57
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