Mhoba BushFire & Strand 101 Rum Review
Mhoba is a fairly young South African rum distillery that I like very much. Owner Robert Greaves is hands on and very innovative, distilling fermented fresh cane juice in a pot still that he built himself. Everything is done in house, cane to bottle, with a certain positivity that makes it hard to not like them. Robert has tried to create something unique in the rum market while being fully transparent and without cutting any corners. You can find a lot of information about Mhoba, including an interview with Robert, when you click here.
By now they have quite a variety of expressions, which are rather hard to get though, unless you reside in main land Europe. With a bit of luck I was able to get a sample of Strand 101 from a local rum friend and I bought a full bottle of BushFire through another rum friend. Some Canadian rum days are better than others.
When it comes to the story of Mhoba Strand 101 we have to mention Knud Strand. He’s a Danish seller and importer of rum who currently resides in France. He’s worked for many companies, including Bacardi and now Mhoba.
One day he was going through a ton of Mhoba samples to figure out which to bottle, at what abv etc. When he was done with that process he was left with two samples. A white rum that was too funky and a dark rum that was too woody. He decided to blend the two, keeping track of the exact ratios. He tasted and loved it. He then called Robert to share his findings, including the ratios of the blend, so that Robert could recreate it in South Africa. Robert enthusiastically called Knud back within a few minutes. The decision was made to bottle it. Robert felt it should be named after its creator, Knud Strand. Which shows Robert’s generous nature.
Knud had a hand in choosing the colours for the label as well. The blend reminded him of Smith & Cross, his personal favourite best value rum. S&C’s label is blue and gold, which are the colours of Strand 101’s label as well. When it comes to the abv, Knud thought 101 proof (50.5%) would be good. Robert agreed with the 101, but it had to be imperial proof, so 58%. I like Robert’s thinking here. :)
BushFire is one of the most recent Mhoba releases. Here’s Robert with the fantastic back story to that one:
“Braaivleis, or just Braai, is a South African BBQ which is very much entrenched in our society. I think it's our warm sunny climate, outdoor type lifestyle and availability of good and relatively affordable meat that has made Braai'ing so popular here. Just about everybody here loves to braai! I've always loved food and flavour and living on a farm out in the country makes braai'ing even better. There is something basic and fundamentally satisfying for me to make a fire and cook food on it. I love the back to basics simplicity of finding the right wood, making a fire and waiting several hours for the wood to burn down to coals (while watching the fire and drinking rum) and then cooking on it. The preparation and the braai itself has become a bit of a ritual for me and I find it therapeutic and relaxing. A lot of city people braai on synthetic briquettes because it’s quick and good wood is not always available, or is expensive in urban areas. Out in the country indigenous hardwood is always available to purchase or if you have a farm there is usually wood available from clearing bush to plant crops or from trimming bush from power line servitudes.
The seasoning and preparation of the meat and the waiting for the fire to burn down to coals has become my time to relax and drink other rums or to try a new rum of my own as a drink rather than a sample. So the fire making and watching and relaxed rum drinking have become almost synonymous for me over the last few years. One of the most common local woods in our area is Sicklebush and I often use this wood to braai with. During the early smokey stages of making the fire I started noticing a smokey but sweet perfume type aroma coming from Sicklebush fires. It's a smell that I will always associate with happy relaxed times in the African bush starting with braais with my Dad on trips to visit the farm as a young boy.
Drinking rum and experiencing this "happy place" smell every time I made a fire to braai got me thinking that I wished I could somehow capture that aroma that is special to me and that many people associate with Africa as a whole. My rum making started with alternative maturation using American white oak staves which I cut and charred myself so I naturally thought of trying the same thing with Sicklebush staves. I split some Sicklebush logs and burnt them to the point where the magic perfumed smoke started to appear and then smothered them in a sealed stainless steel container to prevent them burning further. I initially did one 25 liter demijohn of rum as I was skeptical about the results I would get. Several months later I went to my first Whisky Live in Paris and I took a few bottles of new and experimental rums to get opinion on them from the learned palates in Paris. Bushfire was one of them and was very popular. LMDW who are our distributors in Europe were enthusiastic about it and wanted some for the European market so I started making more as soon as I returned from France”.
The rum is on the Sickle bush staves for around 12 months and bottled at 55%.
Oak, pineapple, mineral stones, coconut, cardboard, varnish, lots of overripe fruit, butter, baking spices and tobacco. This is a really fresh and funky nose.
Wow, I’m transported to a downtown Toronto BBQ restaurant. Smoked meat is dominating. Oak, olives, hickory bbq sauce, some overripe fruit and bandages. You can smell this from a mile away.
Oak, overripe fruit, tobacco, varnish and an abundance of fresh grassy flavours. It’s quite meaty, although not nearly as much as BushFire. Finish is on the long side. This should make an excellent daiquiri.
Charcoal, chorizo, spicy bbq meat and burnt wood. Did I mention meat?! The mouthfeel is thick and luscious. Quite a bit of wood spice on the medium long finish. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like it.
It’s hard to rate BushFire, as it has such a unique flavour profile. What can it be compared to? It has the meatiness of some Clairins, but then it also offers a lot of smoked wood. The thing that reminds me most of it is rum that’s been sitting in an ex peated whisky cask. I’ve never tasted one that I really liked, as the peated whisky flavour dominates the rum very quickly.
BushFire isn’t a “finish”, it’s been sitting in a glass cask with wood staves for 12 months. The result is partly similar to the peated whisky finishes though. The flavour from the wood is very dominating. Luckily, there is still quite a bit of rum character left, which is what saves it for me. Next to that, the mouth feel is thick and luscious. A smokey Clairin is the closest description I can provide. Although some Clairins provide a bit more complexity in my opinion. This is a rum for certain occasions. Not something I’d drink all the time.
Strand 101 has a clear Mhoba signature. It’s a very fresh, grassy type of funk that I haven’t come across in any other rum yet. In my first Mhoba article I described it as "a gentleman from Martinique meeting a gorgeous Jamaican lady who then decide to have a baby together". It has been fun to see versions of this description being adopted by quite a few people.
It’s a major accomplishment for a small distillery to create their own signature in the world of rum. A world where some companies call it innovation when putting/finishing (bought) rum in a tequila or champagne barrel. Even adding sugar is seen as innovative by some. Mhoba, with the combination of their own grown cane, the use of a home made cane press, distilling (long) fermented cane juice in a home made pot still, ageing and bottling on site, is.....amazing. To me, they are part of the heroes of the rum world. People who don’t mislead with phony marketing, pretty bottles and sugary secret sauces. They instead follow their hearts on a path full of resistance to make a unique product that’s true to cane and rum.
We need more Mhoba(’s) in our rum lives!
Mhoba Strand 101 – 81
Mhoba BushFire – 73
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