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Comparing Agriculturals

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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot

Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3499
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2008 5:53 am    Post subject: Comparing Agriculturals Reply with quote

Money talks. Maybe.

The French have gone to great lengths to minutely regulate and control the every element of production of their vaunted and protected AOC agricole rhums - from acreage, type of cane, season of harvest, width of crushing rollers, specified BRIX and pH, temperatures, genus of yeast, number of plates in the still, ad infinitum. Accordingly it is fair to say that, at least in Martinique, we are presented with very, very expensive rhums by regulation.

OTOH agricole rhums in Haiti are still the stuff of tradition and art - virtually hand made with "...a finesse that is almost unmatched in the world" (Dave Broom). Cane is hand cut, still transported by ox-cart and small trucks, distillation in individual copper pot stills by skilled artisans, and aged for extended periods at low ABV in French Limosin oak. A time-consuming product of meticulous pride producing rhums by art. High art.

Let's compare ratings by Dave Broom for 38 agricultural rhums using his 5 star system.

1 star: poor
2 star: average
3 star: good
4 star: excellent
5 star: superb

The scores by island, er "terroir" please...

Marie Galante: 3.0
Martinique: 3.4
Haiti: 4.3

Family run Barbancourt in Haiti didn't have a single clunker, scoring two "excellents" and one "superb", while Martinique and Marie Galante are dominated by 3 star rhums. Of the 32 rhums scored in Martinique only one company (of eight) came even close to Barbancourt, namely Rhum JM at 4.1. Only two of the thirty two (very expensive) AOC rhums matched Barbancourt's $19 Five Star's five star rating - JM's 1993 ($95) and J. Bally's 1990 ($90).

Embarassing, really. Surprisingly and worse yet, the distilleries of Martinique (less so JM) can be quite inconsistent within their own product line. OTOH, if it says Barbancourt it's "excellent" or "superb", period. Here's all the ratings by distiller:

Barbancourt: 4.3 stars
4.1: JM
3.8: J. Bally
3.7: Clement
3.5: Neisson
3.3: St. James
3.0: Depaz
3.0: Pere Labat
2.5: Trois Rivieres

Bottom line:

If the sugarcane "terroir" of Martinique was really identifiably different,
If the oppressive, miniscular regulation of their rum making process worked,
And if super-duper-mega premium prices were an indication of tip top quality...

These products would be much more uniformly excellent or better. They are not.

Look I'm not against the AOC. If these spirits sold for $20 to $30 (reflecting their largely 3 star ratings), with an occasional superb "vintage" going for $50 or more, I'd be far less critical. OTOH when a company like Barbancourt, operating under third world conditions consistently produces 4 and 5 star offerings across the board, with their top rated 5 star Five Star selling for $19, who's kidding who...

Here's to the AOC label! Without it, what would rhum snobs do? I have a suggestion: just empty one of your three star, $90 AOC-labeled bottles and refill it with the five star, $19 Five Star from Barbancourt.

And save face. YMMV...

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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot

Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3499
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:44 am    Post subject: The Straw that Broke Hamilton's Back Reply with quote

For the Record:

What an amazing series of events!

The original post (above) was also posted at the "Ministry" and as it turned out, drew a gang of pithy, defensive and flippant one-liners. The kind that tempt you to pith right back, lol. None were particularly competent or convincing.

Worse yet, dear Mr. Hamilton was at the root of several of them - quite surprisingly as he'd previously sent me a private "thank you" for posting not only the above, but also the article entitled "AOC, Designation or Derogation" as well as the others found as stickies in this section - referring to them as "worthy and educational". Even offered to buy me a drink! Go figure.

Since I've learned not to engage in pithy contests, I decided to leave the "Ministry", deleted my posts and submitted my fare-thee-well at the Ministry:


Having designed and run a number of successful websites, and participated in a few more I've learned a few things, for example that sponsorship inhibits open criticism of, uh, sponsors. Which is why my own sites remain entirely free, independent, ad-free and non-commercial. I have come to dislike especially shoot-from-the-hip flippancy and smug polemics which are strictly disallowed in my pasture.

In his stupendous book "Cult of the Amateur", Andrew Keen speaks of the digital revolution: "It's ignorance meets egoism, meets bad taste, meets mob rule... on steroids". A completely accurate description of what I've seen happen on so many websites.

Keen is very well known in the international digital community for his views regarding the future of media, culture and technology. He is one of the golden boys who developed products like Google, et al. As an intimate participant he became aware of a terrible trend on the net - the "democratization" of the internet, with access for all - leading to all posters, all posts as being considered somehow equal. True talent - true expertise - gets swallowed whole by mediocrity. Few have the stamina or expertise to filter out the little true from the massive false.

His main point: without good moderation and/or editing the net gets taken over by the lowest common denominator and the monkeys take over. And he means it. But let's get to it:

It's silly season at the Ministry.

Now please know that among other things I have been well rewarded for my work performing research. I do enjoy ferreting out hard-to-find truths, subtle but important distinctions and I take particular, nay, orgasmic pleasure in identifying and busting myths. In the instant case the myth is that "Rhum Agricole AOC Martinique" as established by French regulation provides the working definition of what is and what is not "rhum agricole" elsewhere. Related myths are that this system of miniscular control is intended primarily to preserve or improve quality (rather than for protectionism and marketing dominance) - and - that this system, in conjunction with its invented notion of Martinique as "terroir" with its incredible cane species and unique soils, leads to significantly improved consistency and quality, and accordingly reviews. And last, that Haiti, despite common recognition for 150 years to the contrary, does not make agricultural rum.

Each and all demonstrably false.

Now agree or disagree, I spent serious time and effort writing, rewriting and finally publishing reasonably competent, long but well cited and argued articles supporting my view of these issues. Certainly these are debatable, but it's fair to expect that any rebuttals ought to be equally thoughtful and competent. Instead, here's a smattering of the hipshot tripe posted in reply:

Dave Broom, a complete, thorough and well regarded spirits writer and professional taster if there ever was one, was curtly dismissed with such flippant and smug putdowns as "if only he'd spent more time in the islands" (as if you can't get the product elsewhere) and "no wonder, he's a Brit" (as if his country of origin makes his experience and observations invalid regarding agricoles). Over 150 years of usage of "agricultural rum", aka "rhum agricole", defined simply and entirely as "rums made from cane juice", and applied to rums made in Haiti, the French Indies and several other islands, was simply ignored, as was the clear pejorative of "rhum industrial".

Mr. Hamilton was completely confusing regarding what "someone once told him" regarding Barbancourt at one time or another as made from "cane juice" (his book), from "sugar syrup" (his list of distilleries and their products) and last, from "cane juice, syrup and sometimes a bit of molasses" (forum thread). Only after I pointed out these long existing discrepancies did he come to promote the latter version - but even that remains unverifiable and outdated hearsay contradicted by Barbancourt and authors Ian Williams and Dave Broom. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

Another quick shot proffered that "I've never seen Barbancourt label their rums as 'rhum agricole", apparently implying that not doing so must be an admission that the rhum is something other than agricole. Never you mind that of the hundreds of molasses based rums on the shelves, I've yet to see one that is proudly labeled "fine industrial rum", er, "rhum industriale". Yet somehow are still molasses based.

Spare me.

And yet another one liner suggested that Barbancourt's "large" (compared to?) production was proof positive that their rhums were not artisinal but rather I guess, manufactured akin to a Coke bottling plant. Forget that at Barbancourt (reported as late as 2005), you'd still see cane cut by hand, some still delivered by oxcart, every drop still finished in individual pot stills under the direct and costly supervision of skilled individual artisan distillers, still barreled in imported, coarse grain imported French Limosin oak, still barreled at low ABV (requiring additional and expensive years of aging), et al. As a major employer in a third world country they can do so. About which Dave Brook was ecstatically effusive: "They don't only produce rum; they make a rum with a finesse that is almost unsurpassed in the world." But hey, he's British.

No they said, Barbancourt produces way more gallons than Niesson, so they can't be artisan, just that simple. Right. Simplistic is more like it. Such responses went on and on, but were just more of the same. Cheap shot polemics, one-upsmanship, flippant, smug and unconvincing toss offs. I know things have reached Keen's cult stage when I find myself drawn to responding by simply linking articles and commentary already posted, but apparently not read, or parsed into nonrecognition. However tempting, that's a sure indicator that the rock of knowledge has met a hard headed place. Repetitive, unproductive and wasteful to all concerned.

When a dialogue descends to such smug and stubborn quippery, it's over - at least for me. Been there, done that, way too much work for way too little return. Like arguing with trees.

It's bad enough enduring such polemical preaching - so you can be sure that preaching to someone else's choir is not in my job description. As for me I'm more moved by the Aboriginal peoples who take great pain and meticulous care to return the environment - every twig, every footprint, every cooking fire - to the pristine condition in which they found it - not a speck of disturbed desert dust to betray their passage.

Accordingly this post will remain for a time, then join all the other deletions I have already made. And I leave all you fine people to yourselves, in your natural habitat - untouched by human hands - myths intact - and happily drinking rum interrupted only by occasional spit takes, lol. It's all good, nicht vahr? I came, I saw, and...

I truly enjoyed my time here. Honestly.

I've had the great pleasure of meeting the tireless and multitalented Robert Burr, and experiencing with my dear Sue Sea, Daniel's spectacular big wood artisan rums as poured by his own expert hand. And I eagerly await the drink Ed Hamilton privately promised to buy me (though now I may need to use the queen's taster, lol). Up Spirits! May the most you wish for be the least you get! And may you enjoy the fine agricultural rhums from Haiti!

Suggested Poll:
Jimbo's articles were completely unreliable because:

He didn't spent enough time in the islands.
Whaddya expect, he's from Erie, Pennsylvania.
They were never been labeled "l'information fiable".
Long articles are industrially mass produced.
Way too many big words.
Someone told me so!


For those who regret the loss of challenging rum documentaries regarding agricultural rums especially, do know that they survive and prosper at my own humble, free and completely non-commercial Rum Project website and forum, beholden to none. There crappy rum is called "crappy rum". Watch too for some important announcements there for some amazing new rum tasting and discussion opportunities. They will be spectacular...

True to my word, I exited and returned a day later to delete my fare-thee-well only to discover that I'd been "banned" by Ed for the curt reason "because I want to"?! And that the previously complimented "educational thread", along with the flippant retorts it generated, had been deleted. Can't blame him a bit, what with one's "expert" status having been so clearly challenged.

I'd quit and was on my way out the door; left with no option he'd resorted to a pouty face-saving kick in the pants, taking a shot from behind at my rapidly receding rear and "banning" me after the fact. I respectfully replied by email:

Feel better now?

Earth to Ed... closing the door after the horse has left the barn, though personally satisfying I'm sure, is just another form of "You can't quit, I'm firing you!", lol. And looks pretty dumb. But thanks for saving me the trouble of deleting my final post. Does this mean you won't be buyin the Capn a drink? Sure hope not.

Really the responsibility is entirely mine - having forgotten that well reasoned and cited internet dialogue - where one liners rule - remains an oxymoron. And I should have known that while such flippant toss offs are tolerated (particularly when they agree with the prevailing mythology), recognizing and exposing them as such is not. Last, I ignored the most important maxim: "Rule #1: The boss is always right; Rule #2: When the boss is wrong, see Rule #1", lol.

FWIW, my fare-thee-well was the kind and gentle version, sufficient to posit my dismay without joining in the mudslinging (while recognizing it), and leaving on the most positive and respectful note possible under the circumstances. And it is final. I think you're a fine gentleman - who just happened to paint himself into the "expert" corner. Completely understandable. But in accord with rule #2...

You were entirely right. May your health be bottomless! I mean rum glass, no, no - your women! Yeah, that's it...

Sincere best regards...

ps. kindly delete my account... and thanks - I had an otherwise enjoyable experience. I stand on my posts.

At this writing Ed has refused to delete my account, preferring to promote the myth that he "banned" this writer, by keeping my name, "Capn Jimbo" on the register - with the sole purpose of subtitling it as "banned". How childish, really. It's like checkin in at the Hotel California...


Last thing I remember, I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man, 'We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!'

So that's the story behind my absence at the "Ministry" (if you'll pardon the pun). As for Mr. Ed: To your health! May you never tap dance faster!

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