T Rhum (40°, 50° & 55°)

T Rhum 50%-RG1

Product of:  Taha’a, French Polynesia
Aged:  rested ~3 months
Price: $39 at the distillery on Taha'a
Alcohol: 40%, 50% & 55% ABV 
Sugar: 0-5 g/L (estimate)
Context: Rhum Blanc Agricole
RG Ratings:  
40% = 9; 50% = 9.5; 55% = 9

Tasting Notes - T Rhum 40%
A bouquet of fresh cut and crushed sugarcane, very grassy, sweet alcohol says “Ia’Orana” (hello) as you unscrew the bottle cap.

Poured into a proper tasting glass, the rhum appears “gin clear” as the waters of Tahiti are often described.  The rhum simply shimmers as if illuminated with a silver incandescence.  Swirl, and watch as a bounty of beads forms into a crown atop the residual rhum smeared inside my tasting glass.  Most run quickly down to rejoin the pool of spirit below., while several laggards are left behind clinging to the side of the glass, enabling the potent pot-distilled agricole rhum aromas to fully develop.

Sweet fermented sugarcane juice and buttery croissant entice the nose.  Lesser notes of tropical fruit (mango, papaya, banana and succulent Tahitian pineapple), and subtle floral Tahitian vanilla have your senses dancing.   

All of those delightful fresh cane aromas are manifest in their associated flavors, delivered on a creamy, medium-weight body, with some added minerality on the tongue reflecting a singularly integrated ethereal spirit that finishes off-dry with lingering sugarcane flavor on the tongue and no burn in the throat. 

RG Note: T Rhum 40% and Manutea Rhum Blanc Agricole 40% are essentially identical twins, as Laurent Masseron, their sugarcane grower, told Rum Gallery during our visit to his cane crushing and fermenting facility (see anecdotes).  I tasted both rhums side by side, relishing in their identical character.  Therefore the tasting notes for both rums are identical.

T Rhum Family-RG1

Tasting Notes - T Rhum 50%
A big, bold bouquet of fermenting sugarcane explodes from the bottle the instant the cap is unscrewed - this is one potent smelling rhum.  In the glass, T Rhum 50% doesn’t say much.  The clear color and fleeting appearance provide few clues to her personality; legs form quickly after swirling and disappear just as rapidly, sheeting down the inside of a tasting glass and leaving only a few droplet behind.  It’s a wonder these few stragglers are responsible for such magnificent smells.

After your nose acclimates to the superb bouquet, gentler aromas of sweet sugarcane juice, pineapple, coconut (meat and and shell), butter, flour (croissants, anyone?), a mild lemon citrus scent, then lesser notes of pecans and tamanu (a local Tahitian nut).

Even a small sip reveals one creamy, full bodied mouthful of a rhum, delicious in it’s singular sugarcane character, with a buttery texture that veils its relatively high alcohol content throughout the tasting experience, as there’s no burn on the finish, just a delicious pastry-like aftertaste.  It’s not often one finds such a well-turned out unaged agricole rhum blanc.  Blame it on Taha’a and it’s beauty.

Representative sugarcane plant growing at Domaine Pari Pari, Taha'a

Tasting Notes - T Rhum 55%
Wow!  What a difference 5 degrees of ABV make.

Bouquet:  grassy,like  cut sugarcane fermenting in the hot Tahitian sunshine, perhaps not quite as bold as the 50%.

Color:  The clear distillate arrives with a gang of quickly forming legs, which rapidly run downward in a tasting glass, making a powerful visual statement.

You can smell the extra 5 degrees of ABV in this rhum versus the 50%.  This 55% rhum blanc agricole pleasantly reeks of sugarcane vinasse and pot-distilled alcohol.  The lesser proof expressions of T Rhum offer buttery croissant sweetness, whereas this 55% expression masks over that gentility with very overripe tropical fruit (mango, pineapple rind and banana), and oily and metallic sensation like you’re breathing trace amounts of oxidized copper from the still. It is more rich than offensive.  

The initial taste is potent and hearty, full of sugarcane alcohol flavors, albeit a bit too pronounced for my sipping pleasure, but sure to stand up to anyone’s ‘Ti Punch recipe.

The medium-weight body feels a bit thinner than the 50%, as more alcohol in the solution lowers density, yet the finish remains full and strong, with a warming deep in the chest.

One load of freshly harvested sugarcane is crushed as another is delivered

Laurent experiments with several varietals of sugracane grown in various locations around Taha'a, to find the best march of canes with terroir.  The can fields are not burned before harvesting, because the Society Islands are not host to the types of dangerous animals lurking in Caribbean sugarcane fields.  Within a few hours after harvesting by hand, the sugarcane is crushed and set to ferment in large plastic tanks using a proprietary yeast, plus the yeast on the cane stalks.  During fermentation, the vinasse is allowed to breathe freely, as the tanks caps are left open. The temperature is controlled with water in a hose.  A 25 gallon pot still expected to arrive toward end of 2016 from Germany (not Holstein).

The rhum is distilled in a single pass at Manutea's pot still, but using Laurent's own sugarcane.  Laurent tweaks the still to his own  desire.

T Rhum is rested for 3 months prior to bottling.  5,000 bottles were produced in first year of operations.

At the time of my visit to Domaine Pari Pari, T Rhum agricole was offered in three unaged expressions: 40°, 50° and 55°.  As you can read in my tasting notes, each have uniquely different different flavors and aromas.

However, casks once used to age Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey, plus Limousin, Sherry, Port and other casks will be used for experimenting with making aged rhums.  

Laurent Masseron & Pari Pari Distillerie tasting counter

Given the big flavor of T Rhum, I hold out great hope for what Mr. Masseron will achieve with his own still to tune, and apply various barrel wood aging to his already excellent unaged rhums.  I jump at every opportunity to visit Taha’a.  The Distillerie Pari Pari gives me  a few more reasons.

Laurent Masseron’s passion for bringing out the best of mother nature’s produce is evident in the words on each bottle: “The Pari Pari is located on Taha’a, an authentic island of French Polynesia.  It is on this soil that we chose to install our farming and [rhum making] techniques in 2005.  Our sugarcane is harvested by hand, the juice of the sugarcane is extracted then fermented and distilled in the purest tradition.  The old varieties of sugarcane and rhum offer a pallet of very flowery and fruity aromas, competing with best rhums agricole.”   

As with all things in French Polynesia  the islands contribute heavenly natural resources, weather, terroir and cane varietals, but the French contribute their knowledge of crafting them into refined pleasures of food and drink.  It is a winning combination, and one of my favorite places on Earth.  T Rhum is all you’d hope to get from   copper pit-distilled freshly pressed and  fermented and sugarcane juice. 

When I toured the T Rhum distillery on Taha’a in September 2016, owner Laurent Masseron allowed me to sample all three of his rhum expressions.  He singled out the 50% version as being th most flavorful, perhaps encouraging me to pay particular attention.  Then and now, back at the Rum Gallery tasting room, his advice was spot on.

Of course, T Rhum at any ABV makes an excellent ‘Ti Punch.  Earthy flavors dominate, complimenting the lime, and sugarcane syrup gives better body to this drink than granulated sugar.  But, Chacun prépare sa propre mort, so make it as you wish, you will be pleased.

Reviewed: August and September 2016 while sailing throughout the Society Islands of French Polynesia (often referred to as Tahiti, the most populated island)..

© Dave Russell 2017