HSE Rums: The Fount of All Understanding 2/3

Read part one of the interview here

Meeting between Cyrille Lawson, one of HSE Rum’s figureheads and Cyrille Mald, for a frank exchange on the production secrets that lie behind HSE’s treasures.

Les Rhums HSE

Cyrille Mald: Let’s move on to the second batch: The Marquis de Terme 2, which is the new entrant into the market. It starts off just the same: 4-6 years in American oak barrels, the rest of the time in French oak barrels except that…

Cyrille Lawson: …except that it’s 11 years old, it’s one year older than the first batch.

Cyrille Mald: Why this choice? Did you want it to mature longer in French oak?

Cyrille Lawson: No, it is because when we make our selections, they are blind selections. We said “That batch, wow! It’s so elegant! It’s even better than what we already had.” It was a blind tasting, and when we looked, we saw that it was 11 years old.

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The aging process for HSE Marquis de Terme Batch 1 was 4-6 years in American oak barrels, then a further 4-6 years in French oak barrels. After these 10 years of aging, the batch was finished for 18 months in 4 Marquis de Terme casks, followed by 6 to 8 months of circulation and slow dilution in small stainless steel tanks.

The aging process for HSE Marquis de Terme Batch 2 is 4-6 years in American oak barrels, then a further 4 to 7 years in French oak barrels. After these 11 years of aging, this batch underwent a 10-month finish in 10 Marquis de Terme casks then 6 to 8 months of circulation and slow reduction in neutral tuns.

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Cyrille Mald: Are there four barrels of this too?

Cyrille Lawson: We selected 10 barrels this time, which means there will be about 9 barrels available, since the “angels’ share” represents about 10%. Although they are filled to a maximum, there is always this loss. Which represents approximately 1800 litres.

The selection was made on the same basis as the first batch. We talked earlier about the selection of juice upstream, which is very important.

We therefore placed the rum in these 10 Marquis de Terme casks and paid very close attention to them. I explained earlier that for the first batch, we had a very strong extraction at the beginning and then after that, it was like heating milk on a stove, we tasted it constantly.

Just like the first batch, we had a first extraction with very strong wine notes, even down to the colour of the juice, which was quite incredible, it looked like rum with a little grenadine. Quite quickly, we had the phase I explained earlier, the aging phase after 8 to 9 months, where it became really interesting and very mellow.

We discussed it a lot and this time decided to stop the finish at 10 months, which we believe resulted in a more mellow profile. We probably lost a little astringency on the finish and kirsch cherry on the length, but I think we have gained a little more elegance. That was our focus this time around.

If they must be compared to each another, one is a 10-year-old-rum that underwent 18 months of aging. Whereas here, we had an 11-year-old rum before finishing, and we stopped finishing after 10 months because that was the focus, as I explained. And then we had the logic of varying degrees of blind tasting.

Les Rhums HSE - Marquis de Terme Batch 2

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Tasting notes HSE Marquis de Terme Batch 2:

The complexity on the nose is so obvious that it is surprising. It reaches its peak three weeks after opening. The layers of aromas can be distinguished from each other as the glass is moved from bottom to top and then from top to bottom: kirsch, redcurrants, prunes in brandy, blackcurrants, old violets, citrus marmalade, delicate wood notes veering on rosewood.

Everything here is confined to delicacy and the opening of a grand opera. One imagines the copper, Creole column still of the Simon distillery, its stripping runs enlarged to slow the trajectory of the boiling wine and prolong its exposure time between the steam and fermented sugar cane juice, reduced in number to allow the least volatile esters to pass through and produce complex and full-bodied spirits.

Then comes the first attack in the mouth: Amarena cherry in syrup, redcurrant that reaffirms the nose, a background of full-bodied wood: very integrated mahogany without astringency. It is the second movement that is a little unsettling: ivy is now present, exotic but less noble woods, such as iroko – between yellow and red wood – more drying and a burst of spices: from Ceylon cinnamon to spicier, woody notes, perhaps too present, one moves away from the exceptional delicacy of the nose. Batch 2 is superior to the nose of Batch 1 it is obvious, and it is absolutely necessary to fully savour even just a second of the infinite universe that it covers.

The second mouth and the finish, however, are inferior to Batch 1, whose balance and patina of vegetal glaze continue to surprise, tasting after tasting, and which so far appears to be unsurpassed if not unsurpassable, so exceptional are the quality of the HSE sugar cane juice and the barrels of this classified fourth growth Bordeaux vintage.

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Circulation tanks

Cyrille Mald: Once the finishing time was over, did you use the same circulation and dilution tanks for both cuvées? Did you use large wooden casks during the circulation phase?

Cyrille Lawson: Yes, circulation and slow dilution. We have two types depending on the batch sizes, we do that in small stainless steel tanks…

Cyrille Mald: But for the first Marquis de Terme?

Cyrille Lawson: For the first, we used a stainless steel tank for dilution and circulation. This phase isn’t intended to age the rum, but just to aerate, circulate and dilute it.

Cyrille Mald: How long does that take?

Cyrille Lawson: So, regarding the Marquis de Terme, it was ready around about the month of April, or even before then, in March. From memory, that’s about 6 to 8 months of circulation and dilution.

Cyrille Mald: So, batch 1 was in stainless steel barrels and batch 2 was in wooden but neutral barrels.

Cyrille Lawson: Exactly. Due to size constraints, because for batch 2 we had 9 barrels to circulate and dilute.

Slow dilution

Cyrille Mald: Did the dilution take place at that point or did it take place beforehand?

Cyrille Lawson: It takes place at the end.

Cyrille Mald: And you were at what percentage?

Cyrille Lawson: Good question. From memory, I think we were about at about 61°, or maybe a little less, 59°. It was around 60° or a little less, about 58-59°. It’s a slow dilution, so as not to “shock” the product.

It’s the result of work that we had undertaken on the dilution process of the cuvees, which began in 2000 and which had its origins in what we had noticed from not only the Plantation’s veterans, but also from our consumers.

I am thinking in particular about Mr Chloé, who was at the Plantation when I arrived more than 20 years ago and had started work at the age of 13. He is the living memory of Habitation Saint-Etienne and explained to me that the rums were “better before…”. By unravelling all this, we realized that we had longer rest times in the 1980s because we were able to keep the yield from the previous year for a few months, enough time to move it and create the new distillate. We also noticed that our customers, accustomed to white rum, noticed when we had started a new rum season, they would say: “Ah… this rum is fresh.” They could tell by tasting it.

With this in mind, back when we worked with José Hayot and Mr Marceline, who was our DAF and crazy about rum, we were wondering about this as early as 1998, but 2000 was such a special year – white rums with very powerful notes of white flowers, lilac, jasmine, etc. – that we decided to select this batch of 2000, which really was the epitome of the crop, and to apply this rest time, this circulation, this slow dilution, and we tasted the rum as it evolved and compared it to a control sample to see if there was any real effect or if it was just nostalgia on our part.

There was definitely an appreciable impact, which everyone noted without necessarily putting it into words, as these were blind tastings, but it is really is different, more round, finer, more complex and “better.”

Cyrille Mald: Through two cumulative effects: the effect of circulation and slow dilution. Let’s start with circulation. Can you explain how it works?

Cyrille Lawson: For circulation, we use a tank. In general, we make selections from 30,000 to 50,000 litres – so that’s less than 1% of our total production, so it really is a classic selection – the most representative distillate, the best of the year and we circulate it.

What is circulation? A pump at the bottom of the tank circulates the rum to the top of the tank. This circulation allows the evaporation of the most volatile alcohols, which are also the ones that burn the palate the most. This circulation lessens this “water hammer” effect, this aromatic “headbutt” which is usually present, and rounds out the rum’s profile.

At the same time, there is also a slow dilution. This slow dilution means that small amounts of water are added, according to a program, a certain amount of water is added every 15 days, so as not to shock the product.

Adding water to alcohol results in a so-called exothermic reaction that releases heat. Anyone can do it, it’s really very easy. You take a rum with a high alcohol content, you take the amount of water you need to reduce the rum to the desired alcohol content, you measure the temperature of your two jars: the rum is at 28°C, the water is at 28°C and adding the water to the rum will cause the temperature of the mix to rise to 40°, or even 50°, very briefly. This increase in temperature will lead to the destruction of fatty acids, of certain kinds of aromas which will impoverish the rum.

This is why water is added very gradually, so as to shock the product as little as possible. So, the cumulative effect of a long circulation and long dilution results in the addition of less water, as the alcohol will evaporate and naturally result in a lower content. Water is therefore added but in lesser amounts than in a classic dilution. So we end up with very concentrated rums. This is seen in the pour and in the mouth, the rum has a full-bodied and velvety aspect.

When rum is diluted very slowly and oxygenated through this circulation, there is an increasing complexity of the aromatic profiles. The action of oxygen on the aromatic profiles breaks down the big aromas and spreads them over the aromatic spectrum, whereas before you had citrusy notes, now you really have lemon, notes of kaffir lime, for example, notes of pink grapefruit. All this circulation and slow dilution result in the expansion and highlighting of the aromas that are really seen in the cuvée.

 

Read the third and last part of the interview

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