Damoiseau is the only remaining distillery on Grand-Terre, the eastern part of Guadeloupe. It is the youngest but also the largest distillery in terms of total output (about 3.2 million litres a year) on the island. Headed by Hervé Damoiseau, they produce a very light rhum style and, more interestingly, also distill from molasses from time to time when sugar cane is out of season. All the full proof rums of this tasting session are traditional, i.e. molasses based rums or perhaps mixes of molasses and cane juice distillates. The same is true for the 1998 Bellevues who have also been distilled by Damoiseau but contrary to these full proof vintage rhums they have been released exclusively by independent bottlers.
Once again this tasting has been done semi-blindly, meaning that I didn’t know which of these rums can be found in which glass. I hope that this will enable a more objective opinion and I’ll try to do it more often from now on in cross-tastings. This time it definitely did it’s job as I was pretty sure about where to put the rums but still got one pair completely wrong!
Damoiseau 1989 20YO (58,4%): A twenty year old rhum from Guadeloupe at cask strength, holy moly! 47 casks have been combined to produce this beauty and after 20 years in the tropics there probably was not much left in them. Anyway, at first I thought that this one is by far the lightest and fruitiest of the bunch but actually the other two rums just needed way more time to fully open up. I can smell ripe oranges, freshly baked bread and later also wild herbs (as opposed to herbs from the garden). After all is said and done I’d say this one is actually the most restrained of the bunch. Palate: The integration of the alcohol is a bit worse than the nose suggested. There are oranges, wild herbs and honey. Then mild ginger, blood oranges and cinnamon. After a while spices try to push to the fore but cannot quite assert themselves against the wild herbs. The finish of the 1989 is the only one that is not really memorable. Oranges are present but only for a short period of time. This one is certainly interesting and you can detect a lot of nuances over time. In my book it loses the head-to-head comparison with the other two rums though.
Damoiseau 1991 18YO (54,4%): Not much less impressive based on its basic data, 37 casks of rhum are responsible for this one. In the nose we get plenty of herbs and spices (cinnamon), paired with wood (cedar), orange zest and molasses. It’s relatively heavy. With time the herbs start to take over more and more and the rum further reveals notes of forest honey and foul mango, which is becoming increasingly dominant. My initial impression upon the first sip is that it’s relatively thin but compared to the other two candidates it is actually rather heavy. In fact, the rum is very intense and feels fresh and mature at the same time. I get apples, fresh sugar cane, cedar wood, milk with honey and the oh so typical malt candy. Finish: Almost endless with leather, honey, and herbs, most notably thyme. A magnificent rum and easily my favorite of the bunch. The intensity of the flavours is surrel. If your only exposure to these kind of rums are the 1998 Bellevues I’d say this is what you get when you put these rums on crack!
Damoiseau 1995 14YO (66,9%): To be honest, I do not know the age of this rhum, only that it has been distilled on 20.01.1995 and bottled in January 2010, so it might have reached the full 15 years. It comes in at a formidable 66,9% and is the result of 42 casks. With this one I get herbs and tobacco. It probably comes closest to the 1998 Bellevues. Then old, dry bread (as compared to the freshly baked bread I’ve found in the 1989). It is not very fruits and rather woody. Let’s take a sip. It’s very intense and decidedly more woody than the other two but it is also a bit hotter. My first associations are molasses and tobacco, as well as the thought that it probably should have left the casks earlier. Then malt candy, honey, wild herbs and plenty of notes from the cask (spices, wood, tobacco etc). I don’t know why but I cannot get images of fizzy water out of my head with this one. In the finish we can find the same foul mango as in the 1991, paired with wood and slightly bitter notes. Again, it seems that the aftertaste doesn’t want to end. Never. This is a very intense rum that is not very complex. In that sense you might position it between the 1989 and 1991, and this is also where I’d put it quality-wise. In terms of wood and cask influence, this one is the most extreme however. Even though they are relatively rare, there are days when I crave for rums like this. I think I’d always turn to the 1991 however.
What should I say? We’ve had a supreme rum and two very good ones, at somewhat different ends of the spectrum. Funnily, these two are also the ones I mixed up in my allocation. I thought that the 1995, which is by far the woodiest of the bunch, should be the oldest one whereas the 1989, which might be the lightest (and initially felt like the fruitiest) one, should be the youngest. I guess that the barrels of the 1995 just have been more heavily charred, sometimes that’s all that it takes. Now all I have to do is to grab a bottle of the 1991…
My samples come from bottle splits by Rémy M. Merci beaucoup et le meilleur pour toi!