I find a lot of rum distilleries interesting and fascinating. Their equipment, processes, history, smells, people and of course the variety of rums. There are a handful that grab my attention more than others though. Savanna is one of them.
Before I visited Savanna, I had only tried five or six of their expressions. That was more than enough to get me excited. During the visit I was fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time in the barrel warehouse, trying a lot of rums straight from the cask. It gave me a much better understanding and appreciation for their work and the resulting flavour profile(s). Savanna is an absolute diamond of a distillery. Click here if you want to read about my visit to Réunion.
Savanna is located right next to a sugar factory and is surrounded by cane fields. This gives them the freedom to use fresh cane juice and molasses for fermentation. They aren’t unique in having that opportunity, however, distilleries who use both juice and molasses are in the minority. Fermentation isn’t cookie cutter either, since they use a long and a short fermentation. Distillation is done through a pot still or a Savalle column still. As you can tell, they are using a wide spectrum of methods and equipment to get to their desired taste profile, which I think is fascinating.
Here are some of the technical details that I copied from my travel story:
Savanna buys bacteria from a lab in Germany and a lab in the US and puts those in vinasse to propagate. Fermentation times: 10 days for Grand Arome, 5 to 6 days for HERR, 24 hours for the regular expressions. Closed fermentation only. Grand Arome and rhum agricole are produced in the Savalle column still, HERR in the pot. There is more Savanna info in this article as well.
This is all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t mean each of their releases is going to be good of course. I was lucky enough to be able to buy 4 rare Savanna expressions in Réunion. Three single cask molasses rums at the distillery and one single cask rhum agricole in a random liquor store on the island. The details:
Savanna The Wild Island Edition
Distilled in 2007
Aged in ex cognac and ex port casks for 13 years total, cask 973
Savanna Unshared Cask
Distilled in 2009
Aged in ex cognac for 11 years, cask 627
Savanna Millésime 2005
Put in cask in 2007
Aged in ex cognac and ex port casks for 12 years total, cask 967
I tasted these semi blind in three different sessions. I knew which rums, but not in which order.
Oak, red fruits, dried fruit, pine, menthol, bandages, strong caramel, tobacco, light cucumber, red wine, molasses, light paint. It’s quite a heavy nose. Good start!
Instantly recognize this as agricole. Not difficult of course in this lineup….it’s almost cheating. Not as intense as rum 1. Very flowery. Dried flowers, crayon, menthol, light oak, quite herbal, cane juice, sunflowers, marzipan, walnuts. It’s a bit medicinal. It’s like walking into a flower shop where they are illegally making rhum in the back.
Mineral stones, menthol, oak, nice sweet aroma, caramel, bandages, marzipan, light paint, pine, pineapple, walnuts, red wine, mellow oak. There are some similarities with rum 1, but it’s less heavy and the medicinal side is a bit more subdued. I wouldn’t call this a light nose however.
Rum 1 wins the nosing round, closely followed by rum 3. Rum 2 a bit behind.
Bandages, pine, heavy oak, red wine, pencil shavings, medicinal, black pepper, nuts, menthol, caramel heavy, molasses. It’s pretty sweet. Finish is flavourful and quite long, although not as long and intense as rum 3.
Definitely agricole. Quite oaky. Marzipan?…..love it. Strong red wine, light pine, menthol, medicinal. Very sweet on the front palate, the sweetest agricole I’ve had so far. Oak is very well integrated. Slightly grassy, but mild in that department. Finish is solid with a good amount of wood, alcohol and a combo of the above flavours. Not as intense as the other two. I find it an incredibly complex agricole. It’s got a lot more flavour surprises than what I’m used to when drinking rhum.
Medicinal goddess. Black pepper, menthol, pine, marzipan, oak. It is the most intense of the three. Nothing is overpowering here though, there is a fantastic balance. It’s got a fruity layer on top of the medicinal and wood notes on the finish. Wood spice is strong, but there is a very mellow wood note woven through it, if you know what I mean. The finish is very long, intense and balanced. Don’t drink this right before a date, as your breath will smell of this rum for a long time!
Rum 1: Savanna The Wild Island Edition #973
Rum 2: Savanna Millésime 2005
Rum 3: Savanna Unshared Cask #627
I love all three of these rums. They take you on such a flavour journey, it’s intense and exciting! What’s super interesting is the presence of a recognizable profile in each of these expressions. Which is remarkable as one of them is agricole and the others are molasses rums.
I adore the Wild Island Edition. It’s powerful and complex. It was put in a cask on December 24th. I love the dedication there! Rum with a Christmas spirit has to be good! I do feel it’s a little bit too heavy on the caramel. It somewhat reminded me a of a Demerara rum in that regard (no, it’s not the same….just a vague memory). Next to that, it’s not as balanced and intense as rum 3. For me that is the clear winner here. The flavour of that one is intense and complex. It’s very balanced and drinks below its abv. Unshared Cask is bottled for Reunion Island and this one has a sticker on it that states “staff selection”. Kudos to the staff, they certainly know how to pick great rum! It’s not just a great rum, it is one of the best rums I’ve ever had. I feel very fortunate I was able to buy a bottle. I wish I had a lifetime supply.
It’s not completely fair that I put Savanna Millésime 2005 in this comparison, since it’s the only agricole. Overall I tend to enjoy agricole rums a little less than molasses rums. To make it a more even playing field I made a quick comparison to Neisson XO, without going into too much detail, as I already did that here.
Nose Neisson XO
A lot less expressive and complex. It is very solid and balanced though. Creamy, woody, soft vanilla. Less in the grassy section than Savanna. Neisson doesn’t have the medicinal note, which makes it a completely different animal.
Tasting Neisson XO
A lot more grassy on the palate than on the nose. More grassy and woody than the Savanna. Wood spice is really taking over my tongue. It’s youthfulness is showing in comparison. The intensity of the wood is slightly surprising to me though. Good rum, but the Savanna is a mile more interesting. It might actually be the best rhum agricole I’ve had so far. I can see a more "traditional" agricole drinker (whatever that means) preferring Neisson though.
Since I was tasting blind, I didn’t know about the ages and abvs. Which is fine, as it shouldn’t make a difference in the level of appreciation. The Wild Island is two years older than the Unshared Cask, which has a slightly higher abv. It once again shows that age isn’t everything.
One thing is for sure, I will keep searching for Savanna rums for the rest of my rum career. Each one of them is a journey in a bottle.
Savanna The Wild Island Edition #973 – 91
Savanna Millésime 2005 – 89
Savanna Unshared Cask #627 – 95
Click here for info on the scoring method.
Click here for the complete list of reviews & scores.