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.
Cyrille Mald: You said that at the molecular level, if you add water, this increase in temperature creates friction.
Cyrille Lawson: Ah yes, absolutely.
Cyrille Mald: It even creates precipitates.
Cyrille Lawson: Quite. If we dilute the alcohol too abruptly, we end up with what we call colloids, that is, small precipitates. It is like an egg white being placed into hot water, it’s exactly the same principle. It’s a protein base and an increase in temperature.
Cyrille Mald: All of this is lost in filtration.
Cyrille Lawson: Yes, when it’s done quickly, we say that we “impoverish” the rum, and it is noticeable in some juices that are bottled and rapidly diluted, where you get the impression that there is phase which is a little watery on one side and alcoholic on the other. Here, you have a smooth fusion and it really improves the quality of the product.
So our aged rum undergoes a slow process of incremental dilution. And the older the rum, the more attention will be paid to this dilution.
HSE Cuvée Parcellaire N°1 Canne d’Or versus HSE Cuvée 2016
Cyrille Mald: If we return to the subject of circulation and especially white rum cuvées, there is a difference between the Cuvée Parcellaire (plot-specific cuvee) and the Cuvée 2016. Because Cuvée 2016 undergoes two years of circulation, while Cuvée Parcellaire only undergoes one and a half years of circulation. Was it your intention to keep a certain tension in the rum, did you not want to round it out too much?
Cyrille Lawson: This tension is inherent in the profile of rum. The Cuvée Parcellaire N°1 Canne d’Or is a rum that has a beautiful tension and whose aromas open up like a fan. We wanted to keep this beautiful tension which is inherent in the identity of the product, without going too far in the circulation and dilution processes.
Tasting notes HSE Cuvée Parcellaire n°1 “Canne d’Or”:
The great features of the distillery’s white rum are rounded out here with notes of fine fruit and spice – lime, papaya and cardamom. Fruit is very present on the palate and the aromatic profile of the estate’s very first plot-specific and monovarietal cuvée continues to develop with notes of blood orange, candied citrus fruits, passion fruit, cane flower and white pepper, giving the impression of returning inland: towards Gros-Morne and the entrance to the Saint-Etienne Plantation, through which the discovery of the Verger & Coulon plot and its rustic but oh so aromatic golden canes awaits. Here the terroir, vintage and cane variety come together in a perfect combination, which is further revealed by slow circulation and dilution over 18 months in stainless steel tanks.
The production of Cuvée 2016 has an entirely different focus. We wanted to recapture this full-bodiedness that was characteristic of the usual cuvées, especially the 2000 cuvée, and the aspect of the velvety pour, almost shimmering on the palate. We wanted to push this process further to a minimum of two years, knowing that we would go beyond that, because at the first bottling, we marked the bottling dates on the back of the labels, and so we will continue to bottle the remainder with the date of marketing, as and when required.
This will really allow keen enthusiasts to appreciate Cuvée 2016 over time, as was the case for Cuvée 2000, with the 2002 release which was bottled in Martinique, the first 2004 release that was also bottled in Martinique and marketed in metropolitan France in 2004.
Tasting notes HSE Cuvée 2016:
A rich attack on the palate (naphtha and citrus caviar) which becomes mesmerizing (mango, white pepper). Hints of grass in the background highlight the combination of peppermint and aquatic notes. The body goes on to reveal tones of banana and green anise, slightly drying but very pleasant: a walk through the estate’s gardens crossed by the stone canal and holding ponds. Here, we can really taste the benefits of circulation and slow dilution, over two years in stainless steel tanks, which give expression to the full depth of the spirit.
Cyrille Mald: Can you tell us about the aromatic distinctiveness of Canne d’Or?
Cyrille Lawson: It has a lot to do with terroir. There is a strong notion of land, since this is a plot-specific rum. For those who know the Saint-Etienne plantation, it is the plot located just at the entrance. It’s on the left as you arrive. This plot had lain fallow for two years. The soil was allowed to regenerate and we planted this variety of sugar cane, which goes by the rather unpoetic name of R570. It is a cane that is used in the traditional way.
Cyrille Mald: “R” because it comes from Reunion?
Cyrille Lawson: Yes, that’s the consensus. Reunion and Barbados are conducting research on new varieties. The practicality of these new varieties is generally implemented in Martinique, and if a variety of sugarcane is of interest, it will be added to our AOC-approved-for-use canes, since we have to remember that our AOC governs the terroirs, cane varieties and know-how that cover the entire process, from planting to bottling, including aging. That’s the backstory, but this variety of sugar cane actually has a long history in Martinique; it has a very rustic aspect and brings to this plot an absolutely outstanding quality of cane. We have sections of cane which are really thick, it can reach heights of up to 3-4 m, so we have this beautiful looking cane which gives an incredible juice.
The idea was to take this snapshot of that given moment, it is really spontaneous, there is no prioritisation. It’s not that this cane is better, it’s not that this terroir is better, but it is the couple, even the trio – year/terroir/variety– that results in this expression. It is really important to note that this is a snapshot of a given moment in time. It is entirely possible that the same juice next year won’t be as remarkable as it is this year.
Cyrille Mald: Is it cut by hand?
Cyrille Lawson: No, it’s cut mechanically. I talk about empiricism in our approach, we are constantly listening to nature. Our potential comes from nature. Our job consists of selecting it, understanding it and expressing it through a particular focus in the production process, a particular circulation, a particular dilution, a degree, a selection. So that whole side of things is really interesting.
But ultimately, nature puts man back in his place: we are at the disposal of Mother Nature and we try to optimize the potential that nature gives us. This provides a little perspective as to what our job consists of.
Cyrille Mald: In the future, will there be other plot-specific rums?
Cyrille Lawson: It’s impossible to say right now.
Cyrille Mald: You’re testing.
Cyrille Lawson: We’re testing, all the cane juice is tested and as it’s empirical, sometimes you say to yourself: “Wow, that’s amazing!” As we taste blind, we don’t know what we’re tasting. At HSE, the advantage is that we’re a small organisation and everyone participates in the tastings.
Cyrille Mald: Can you explain the triangular tasting system?
Cyrille Lawson: To select a juice or to determine whether a juice is different from another juice, we do what is called a triangular test. Two identical samples will be taken plus a third which is different and a representative sample is required, which is calculated statistically. When 90% of participants recognize that a juice is different and specify that a juice is different, then the difference is perceived as real. This systematic approach allows us to validate our production focus and to go further.
For example, that’s what we did with the historical cuvee. We asked ourselves: “Is there a real impact?” And each time, after 6 months of circulation or 1 year of circulation, and we had the control sample, we always found that the product was different, better, finer, more accomplished. That’s what led us to this logic of a 2-year minimum.
Cyrille Mald: So we don’t know if there will be another plot-specific cuvée of Canne d’Or?
Cyrille Lawson: No.
Cyrille Mald: There could be a plot-specific Canne Rouge, who knows?
Cyrille Lawson: Yes, or another plot with a blend of two cane varieties, for example. Everything depends on the juice. If the juice is of no particular interest, there won’t be a cuvée.