Updated: Jan 12
I recently visited my friend Steve Leukanech in Florida, a long time spirits collector with an incredible nose and palate. He has a great collection and I was thrilled by the prospect of tasting new (to me) rum and to pick up some tips and tricks from his vast experience.
Steve gave me permission to go through his liquor cabinets. This really made me into a kid in a candy store. I figured I’d find 5 bottles I really wanted to try. I was wrong. Within no time there were 15 bottles on the table and I kept adding. Luckily I was there for 4 days! Over the course of a long weekend we tasted many different expressions, from Armagnac to cognac to bourbon to 40 year old port….and of course a lot of rum.
We had talked about doing a proper tasting together for Rum Revelations. With that in mind I was looking for a couple of bottles to do a comparative tasting. There were a few interesting options, with one standing out from the crowd. He had 3 different bottles of Guadeloupe rum from 1998. Duncan Taylor, Cadenhead and Plantation. Bingo!
When it comes to rum from Bellevue in Guadeloupe it can get a little tricky. There is a Bellevue distillery on Marie Galante. Then there is Damoiseau, which is on the Bellevue estate on Grand-Terre, the eastern half of Guadeloupe proper. It’s not always clear which Bellevue is in the bottle. Next to that, there are conflicting stories about the 1998 Guadeloupe releases. There are quite a lot of them through independent bottlers. Plantation states it’s rhum agricole, but that they couldn’t label it as such:”according to the AOC, limited quotas of rum produced in Guadeloupe and Martinique can bear the “rhum agricole” label. This rum was simply over quota, so it could not bear that name.”
A totally different angle is the idea that a large batch of 1998 molasses rum was sold in bulk by Damoiseau. It was sold to Scheer, the world’s largest rum broker. Plantation is a regular customer of Scheer. The guys at Single Cask Rum have a very interesting article on this, in which Hervé Damoiseau shares some insight into the sale of this particular 1998 batch.
To make it even more complicated we felt they somewhat tasted like a molasses and cane juice blend. As with many things in rum, it’s hard to get all the facts. Which story is true? I don’t know, you decide.
Distillery: “Bellevue distillery”
Age: 17 years
Distillery: “Bellevue distillery”
Age: 18 years. Distilled 03/98, bottled 02/17
Age: It is suggested it’s 12 years, including one year in Ferrand cognac casks
Similar to the other two but with some candle wax included. It’s slightly sharper and shows some furniture polish as well. Dirtier. Sweet scents combined with agricole like features.
Bigger, more confident but not hot. Shows the most wood on the nose. Floral, cinnamon, Christmas spice, earth, chocolate, tobacco and wood. No one thing dominates.
Strikingly similar to the DT, but a softer, less sharp version. Less complex.
It’s dirty, farmy, tart and sweet. We both wrote down the word “agricole” and then wondered if this might be a sugar cane juice/molasses blend. Great long finish, showing sweetness, astringency and spices. Good fun!
Dryer on entry but somehow deeper with less astringency and lots more tartness and sweetness. It’s more intense than the Cadenhead. Finish comes late like a cavalry charge to save the day! Super ride!
Light and sweet. Some hints of the flavours of the other two, but only hints. No finish. What a waste. An interesting aside is that the Plantation was the only pour we didn’t finish.
First of all, it was a great experience to do this with Steve. His experience showed in many things, but one in particular that stood out to me…..speed. When I was still nosing, he had already written down two sentences. I really need to take my time to understand what’s in front of me, for him it’s almost instant. Impressive.
The one thing we debated quite a bit is if these rums were molasses based or sugar cane juice or a blend of juice and molasses. It has some of the earthy notes of an agricole, but not enough to be 100% sure it is an actual agricole. This was especially so with the Cadenhead, followed by the Duncan Taylor.
The Plantation had a nice nose that provided some excitement for the tasting. Not as complex and powerful as the other two (lower abv would have an impact on that), but interesting nevertheless. On the palate is where it showed its flaws. Overly soft and easy going, with little complexity and a non existing finish. Of course it’s watered down compared to the other two, but it’s more than that. The added sugar, cognac ageing and whatever else they do, puts a thick blanket over the spirit that makes it all cuddly and soft. Also makes it less complex and vaporizes the finish.
If you’d base your purchase decision on how easy it is to drink, then the Plantation is the winner of the three. It’s definitely an easy sipper. If that happens to be their main goal, then they have succeeded. However, I feel they are especially good at making interesting things very uninteresting.
If you’d like to taste the spirit in its more natural form, the Cadenhead and Duncan Taylor are miles ahead. Very pleasing and complex and of course a better representation of the terroir than the Plantation. If the abv is too high for you, add some water. That flexibility is there, which you don’t have with the Plantation. The DT was more balanced than the Cadenhead, which was also a bit earthier and dirtier. Both super interesting. If I could only pick one bottle, it would be Duncan Taylor. I’d rather have both though :)
Cadenhead Guadeloupe 1998 - 84
Duncan Taylor Guadeloupe1998 - 85
Plantation Guadeloupe 1998 - 52
Click here for info on the scoring method.
Edit - January 2020
From a very credible source I've received information that these are from the same batch of rums and that it's molasses only. Plantation's agricole claim is therefore false.