Monday, December 24, 2012

Rhum Agricole Review: Depaz Blue Cane

Depaz is one of the handful of rhum agricole distilleries on the French island of Martinique. The estate goes back to 1651, when it was established by the governor Jacques Duparquet. However, it's unclear whether distilling began at that point or if that was only when sugar cane production started. Sadly they're pretty cagey about most of their history, other than the fact that the estate was rebuilt by the family owners after the eruption of Mount Pelée at the beginning of the 20th century, so I can't tell you much more.

They make a big deal of the fact that they use 'blue cane', purported one of the most difficult varieties of sugar cane to grow. This supposedly provides a better base for rhum production. I call marketing BS.

Depaz uses small charred barrels for aging, which means that color and flavor are imparted fairly quickly on the rhum. While there is no age statement, my guess is that this rhum is aged no more than a couple dozen months. Small barrels would over-oak the spirit after a relatively short amount of time.

Depaz Blue Cane

Nose: lots of green/vegetal cane notes, pepper, vanilla, a hint of oak, mocha. After adding a few drops of water, some nice raspberry/blackberry and honey notes emerge.

Taste: cane sugar sweetness up front, grass/vegetal/agave mid-palate, pepper, vanilla, a hint of oak, mocha. Dilution makes the palate flatter but more integrated.

Finish: bittersweet oak, grassy cane, light vanilla

I have rather mixed feelings about this rhum. On the one hand, I can't say that it's bad. It definitely gets better with time in the glass and a bit of water makes it much softer. It has a good nose and good body, but a less pleasant finish that I find overly grassy. It's bottled at a respectable 90-proof, but retains some unpleasantly rough edges. Ultimately I just don't think it brings anything to the table that I can't find in other rhums. It can't really compete on price (La Favorite Ambre and Neisson Éléve Sous Bois are roughly the same on a unit price basis and Saint James Royale Ambré is significantly cheaper). It doesn't have a particularly unique combination of flavors. So unless it's the only rhum agricole you can find in your area, there isn't a compelling reason to select it over other rhums. Pretty much the only thing is really has going for it is a really nice bottle design (big points to whatever design firm they hired).

Dreams of Cane
1.5 oz Depaz
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz ginger liqueur
0.5 oz orange liqueur

Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The nose is dominated by the rhum's cane notes, along with a bit of malt from the ginger liqueur. The sip begins without a lot of sweetness. Lime comes in strong, followed by cane, ginger, and smooth orange notes. The finish is bittersweet, leaving the palate cleansed.

This is one of those drinks that feels like it's always about to spiral out of control, but somehow manages to hold together. Given that Depaz feels that way to me most of the time, it seemed appropriate. Ultimately I feel like Depaz is positioning itself similarly to young rye whiskeys: a rougher spirit that can fit well into cocktails where its flaws are balanced and complemented by other ingredients. While there's nothing particularly wrong with that, I stand by my earlier statement that there are better choices in the world of rhum agricole. Depaz just doesn't stand out in a way that makes me want to recommend it.

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