Today we have something quite unusual. It is a battle between two Indonesian rums; or should I say Arracks? Anyway, the contenders are the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia 2004 10YO and the By the Dutch Batavia Arrack!
Arak is a term that is commonly used to describe different spirits. Depending on the country, people associate it with different distillates. The most prominent are coconut palm spirit (in Sri Lanka and parts of India), grape spirit (Lebanon) or, as with our two contenders, sugar cane spirit (Indonesia, where it is called Batavia Arrack instead of Arak). In Mongolia, the word Arkhi refers to a drink made from fermented horse milk by the way.
So what is the difference between rum and Batavia Arrack? Basically the only difference is that red rice is added to the wash during the fermentation process of Arrack, altering how the yeast strains interact with the molecules of the molasses based wash. This affects the creation of esters and has a huge influence on the resulting flavours.
Both bottlings are quite unusual since Arrack typically is not aged for very long. In an interview with Jörg Meyer, Florent Beuchet (head of Compagnie des Indes) let us know that he even owns a barrel of a 25 years old Indonesian rum which he is holding back for a special occasion. Perhaps for some milestone birthday of the company, who knows.
Batavia, the present-day Jakarta, was the former capital of the Dutch East Indies from 1619–1949. In the 17th century, rum from the British colonies, most importantly Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica was sent to the UK while Batavia Arrack consequently ended up with its colonial master, the Netherlands. Historically, Arrack was regarded as superior to rum and in the 18th and 19th century both products were in great demand. It needed collaborations and mergers in the Arrack market to reduce the number of bottlers, two world wars, altering consumer tastes and other obstacles for Arrack to take a second billing to rum. As Matt Pietrek, better known as the Cocktailwonk, lets us know on his blog, E&A Sheer was the only Arrack dealer left in the Netherlands by the 1980s. Today they are most likely By the Dutch’s source for Arrack, besides supplying it for confectionary, tobacco and perfume industries and utilising it in some blends.
Dégustation “Compagnie des Indes Indoensia 2004 10YO vs the By the Dutch Batavia Arrack”
Key Facts: The Compagnie des Indes (CdI) is a single cask bottling that has been distilled in December 2004 in Indonesia and bottled at 43% after ten years in July 2015 in France. Compagnie des Indes released five different single casks which all share the same basic numbers. This particular one comes from cask SB22, which yielded 293 bottles. I have read somewhere that this is supposed to be cask strength but I find that hard to believe. The By the Dutch (BtD) has been double distilled to around 60-65% on Java and then shipped to and aged in Amsterdam. It is a Solera blend of up to eight year old Arracks that is brought down to 48%.
Colour and viscosity: The CdI resembles pale staw and its viscosity is typical for a ten year old.
The BtD is darker, more like old gold. It is more oily than an eight year old Solera would suggest.
Nose: First the CdI. This is not your standard rum. I’d describe its general fragrance as grassy and floral, a bit similar to a very mild agricole. Most notably there are freshly mowed meadows and citrus.
The BtD smells quite different. It is more vegetal and earthy than the CdI. The additional percentage points of alcohol make themselves felt immediately. There is a handful of esters, banana and, it feels weird to say, cauliflower. Yes, there is plenty of cauliflower!
Palate: Flavours of green matcha tea provide the base of the CdI. It is incredibly mild. Then Dijon mustard and most notably dill. It really is unlike every other rum I know. In the background I can also taste the citruses from the nose.
The first thing that comes to my mind when tasting the BtD is cauliflower. Then there is coriander and lemon grass. Again, it probably sounds stupid to say but I get associations of stewing hen and celery. While it cannot deny its sugar cane origin, I also find it hard to compare this to other rums.
Finish: Medium long for the CdI. I get citrus and a few herbs such as fennel. The finish of the BtD is shorter. An interesting, dry mix of its flavours remains.
Two very unusual rums, if you can call them so. While the common denominator is clearly recognisable, you can take from my tasting notes that the flavour profiles are certainly different. Moreover, I probably would not have introduced these two, ähm…, products if they weren’t as close to rum as they are. That said, I really liked the CdI. Even though the individual flavours are a bit odd at the beginning they really shine in combination with each other. However, the rum is lacking some power and you should not make the mistake to drink something at cask strength before. It perishes completely in comparison. This rum at a higher proof and some smoke (perhaps gunpowder instead of match tea) would probably have been the nuts. The BtD is a different beast and perhaps a bit closer to the unaged Batavia Arracks that you get on the streets of Java. On the other hand, it is also distinct enough the warrant its existence. I can imagine that this product might be a joy for bartenders.
My winner of this little duel is the CdI since its flavour profile is more to my liking. The BtD is very unusual and you really have to like its unique character. Anyways, I am glad to have tried them and I would advice every rum aficionado to get a sample of both products. Not only does it broaden your horizon, it is also a nice lesson in rum history.