OK, so maybe I’m a little crazy for trying to squeeze in a rum review the day before I start my Tales of the Cocktail adventure. I’ve been called worse. Sometimes though, there’s just a rum that calls to you…that sits there on your shelf, taunting you, flirting with you with it’s curvy bottle and long neck and puppy-dog eyes – whispering to you as you walk past of the sweet nectar inside and the wonderful times you two could have together if you would just take her out. For quite some time now I have been resisting the charms of that pretty little bottle of Clément Rhum V.S.O.P, but I finally had to relent.
I had first met Clément on my maiden visit to a friend’s bar, Bourbon Street in Fullerton’s SoCo District (that sound you hear is my brother disowning me for calling the area anything other than “Downtown Fullerton”). One of the things I’ve been enjoying with rum’s current resurgence as a spirit of choice is the wider variety and better quality of the selection available at various bars. This being a friend’s bar, I seated myself at the bar and did my requisite scan of the stock, prepared to have to give a lengthy speech to John for his lack of a good rum selection. Then she caught my eye…the amber-hued minx behind the bar, winking at me with the promise of great things to come.
I had not yet tried Clément’s VSOP offering, and this meant that I could do so without being required to shell out the cash for a whole bottle – that was now completely optional. A one-drink stand, a casual relationship, “we’re just friends” were all options, but none ruled out something longer-term. After having a glass or 2…or 4…I picked up a bottle the next day.
Clément Rhum Agricole got its start in 1887 when Homere Clément – then mayor of La Francois (Martinique) – purchased a sugar plantation out of bankruptcy with the goal of converting its focus from the production of sugar to the production of rum. Clément drew his inspiration from the industrious Frenchmen turning grapes into Cognac in the South of France, and thus Rhum Agricole was born (according to the Clément website at least).
V.S.O.P. (Very Special Old Pale – which I doubt is a literal translation of the acronym considering its non-English origins, but let’s not get tied up in semantics) is a designation usually reserved for Cognacs. The Clément V.S.O.P. begins life as a white rum (rhum) distilled from the pressings of freshly cut sugar cane. This rum is then placed in French oak barrels for over a year before being moved to charred Bourbon casks for another 3 years of aging, during which the spririt develops additional tannins and its characteristic coloring.
The rum is a light amber color in the glass, somewhat like a diffuse honey. Swirled about the glass and then set back down, the spirit holds firm, with legs slowly developing and then moving in a very slow manner back to the bowl. These legs, they walk, they do not run.
First nosing reveals an alcohol smell up front, followed immediately by strong fruity notes. The scent of green apple is particularly prominent. There’s the typical vegetal smell one would expect from a rhum agricole, as well as oak from the time in the various barrels. The nose is earthy and light, with a slight vanilla sweetness.
With the Clément, I did notes on the nose twice for each sitting because the time spent out in the air made such a huge difference. After 5 or 6 minutes in the glass, the nose becomes sweeter and richer. Notes of toffee and toasted almonds seem to materialize out of nowhere.
There’s a bit of a spicy burn on the entry, which I’m noticing seems to be a standard characteristic of the rhum agricoles. There is a lot of flavor here. This is a busy rum. There’s almost too much going on to nail anything down.
The taste of the oak is very pronounced – easily the strongest flavor. The vegetal notes that were present in the nose are little more pronounced, while the green apple flavor is more subdued and mingles with the flavor of roasted nuts.
The body has a light, oily quality to it, and carries with it a peppery spice.
After leaving the glass to rest for a bit and updating my nosing notes, I found that the flavor had changed in a similar manner, suddenly imbued with a rich, sugary toffee flavor. I don’t know how they do that, but I’m not ruling out voodoo or black magic – and I’m OK with that.
The Long & The Short Of It
This is a specatacular rhum (rum). It’s both as delicious as it is versatile, allowing you to enjoy it neat, with an ice cube (or two), in a nice ti’punch, or in a more complex cocktail (although there are those who are even now wincing at my suggestion of such a thing). If you’ve never had a rhum agricole and you see this sitting on a store shelf (or your friend’s liquor cabinet and he’s not looking), be sure to grab a bottle, take it home and get to know it.
Dood’s Rating: 4 Bottles of Rum Out of 5
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While I was dubious about rhum agricole for a while, I have seen the light. Especially due to how well it works in a Donga Punch, Clément VSOP is definitely going to be a must-have on my shelf.