Chalong Bay Rum

Chalong Bay 2014 pkg-FB:RG1 Crop

Product of:  Phuket, Thailand
Aged: rested in stainless stell tanks for 8-12 months Price: ฿660 (Thai Baht), approx. $20 in Thailand
Alcohol: 40% ABV 
Sugar: 0g/L
Context: White Agricole Rum
RG Rating: 8.5

Tasting Notes 
Chalong Bay Silver Batch rum is transparent, devoid of color, but shows a few nice legs after swirling in the glass.  

Equally transparent is the bouquet, more like a window into an authentic fresh sugarcane spirit as it wafts sweetly from the bottle, leaving little doubt as to where this rum is from.  Sure enough, the aromas make good on those clues, it just smells like an rhum agricole distillery.  The scent of carefully distilled sugarcane juice fills your glass, softened by a year’s time to exorcise distillation’s edge from the spirit.  The initial taste is quite pleasant, simultaneously both grassy-fibrous and sweet.  Only a balanced agricole rhum blanc is capable of producing this affect on the palate.  The body is light, almost ethereal in it;s sweet delicacy, and the finish is the extremely smooth, lasting far longer than you’d expect.  In the words of Marine, Co-founder of Chalong Bay rum “The taste of our rum is the original one, and we try to give full expression to the sugarcane contained within.”  They have succeeded.

Chalong Bay rum is the brainchild of two French citizens who sought to create a hand-crafted rum distilled from fermented local Thai sugarcane.  Marine and Thibault created Phuket’s lone distillery, and it is the only rum distillery in Thailand not associated with the vastly dominant ThaiBev, producers of
SangSom, Mekhong and Phraya.  The two Co-founders continue to live in France, commuting frequently to Thailand when Chalong Bay operations require their attention. 

The Chalong Bay team has worked with the same small local farmers for several years to grow a single variety sugarcane that is meticulously selected. Their selection of farmers was based on the scale and quality of their technique, know how, terroir, location, and sugarcane variety. Martine’s words: “The scale is important because the sugar industry in Thailand is controlled by the government, including sugarcane prices, and small farmers do not have the scale to earn a decent leaving with these controlled prices.”  Indeed, there are more than 300 varieties of sugarcane grown in Thailand historically, some of which are extensively grown, some of which are rare to find, yet Chalong Bay uses a specific variety..  Freshly cut sugarcane is hand harvested and carefully selected, the fields not burned prior to cutting, and the cane is crushed near the fields directly after it has been harvested.  The fresh vesou is fermented for 72 hours (“with a cut-off time determined by the result of our in-house lab analysis”) to a 5-10% ABV low wine using a “proprietary recipe” yeast strain to obtain “a delicate fruity and smooth rum”.

Distillation happens in a single pass through a traditional Armagnac column stilli.  "We made some changes on our still at the beginning, and continue to make it evolve in order to personalize it, and improve and refine Chalong Bay. So it is a traditional French copper column still with our twist, and it is unique,” reports Chalong Bay's co-founder.

Chalong Bay still, wine warmer:condenser, storage tank and control equipment

In the photo at right you can see the interesting two-chamber system.  The portly column still is on the left in the photo.  fermented sugarcane wine  is introduced to the top of hte column, whereit trickles down, releasing alchol vapors as it boils.  The sugarcane wine is distilled into alcohol before reaching the 25hl pot at the bottom, which has an overflow for the vinasse (waste).

The large copper module shown to the right of the still contains two parts. On the top is the wine warmer and the bottom is for cooling and condensing the distilled spirit vapors.  The chamber pre-warms the fermented sugarcane juice before it is distilled.  In a full cycle, heat to warm the sugarcane wine prior to entering the still is produced by the hot alcohol vapor traveling from top to bottom, in turn condensing into liquid alcoholic spirit.  This is an old yet fascinatingly efficient use of energy.

After distillation, the white rum is stored in stainless steel tanks for a period of eight to twelve months before bottling.  The French owners inspect every hand-filled, Thai-sourced bottles of rum their small independent distillery produces.  That level of commitment and care shows in the rums excellent taste. 

Dave Russell at Chalong Bay

It’s as clear as their Silver batch rum that Chalong Bay knows what they are doing.  The distillery is currently looking for importers in different regions (including USA) to expand beyond current markets France and Singapore.  And there might even be and an aged rum under consideration.  Somebody step forward, Please!

Packaging was updated in mid-2104 to a style that better reflects the crafstmanship that goes into this special Thai agricole rhum.  The new label is in a torn parchment style, with details showing the vintage, batch series number and the signature of by the bottler.  The bottle has a rope wrap on the neck and is topped by a nice wooden cap.  A protective cylinder – all in all an appropriately classy upgrade for Thailand’s best rum.  I'm posing with an older, map-and-compass labeled bottle in Chalong Bay's tasting room at right. 

Easily the best drink I had in Thailand - 'Ti Punch of Chalong Bay rum, at the Surin resort on Pansea Beach, Phuket

What’s so unexpected about this rum?  Lots.  Imagine discovering a true French-style agricole rhum blanc distilled from fresh local sugarcane juice, while you’re traveling through Thailand half-way around the planet from the French West Indies islands where this style of rhum is prized.  

 It is exciting to discover a genuine rhum agricole blanc produced about as distant from the French West Indies as one can be on Planet Earth.  After sailing tha ANdaman sea for days, I set foot back on Phuket and headed over to the Surin resort on Pansea Beach.  There I discoverfed Chalong Bay rum and the refreshing magic tha only a proper 'Ti Punch delvers..  It was easily the best drink I had in Thailand.  

Aromatic and sweet, Chalong Bay Silver Batch agricole ruhm blanc tastes like fresh pressed sugarcane juice with nice ethanol.  To the distillers’ credit, Chalong Bay is the best tasting rum produced on Thailand in Rum Gallery’s opinion. Merci.

Reviewed: February 2014 while sailing in the Andaman Sea around Thailand, and again at The Rum Gallery, USA September 2014.

© Dave Russell 2017