While everybody’s focus always seems to be on the exclusives and special vintage bottlings, e.g. the J.Bally 1999 18YO Brut de Fût or the 1998 released a bit earlier, it is often instructive to check out the standards as well. Especially when the exclusives are rather special. To be honest, I have no clue how much Bally can actually be found in the 1999 for example so I thought it is about time to check out some of the younger brothers.
The actual history of J.Bally is hard to track and the article got way longer than I intended. During my research I had to consult many different sources in different languages with conflicting propositions. So please cut me some slack if some of the information below might not be 100% accurate as some things might have been lost in translation or fall victim to contradictory sources. I am glad if someone can demythologise all of this and correct me whenever I might be wrong!
J.Bally is one of the oldest brands on Martinique. Its history dates back to 1923, when Jacques Bally, a Parisian, bought the bankrupt Lajus sugar plantation (which dates back to the 1670s) in Le Carbet to transform it into a modern distillery. He invested in a steam engine, creates the well-known pyramid- and square-shaped bottles and basically builds a column still by himself. Crucially, inspired by the then already established production methods of Cognac, he is one of the first producers of agricole to develop their rhums in oak barrels. A real revolution since other producers did not understand why you would want to lose some of your rhum to the angels back then. It is hard to come by more elaborate information on the history of the brand and the distillery but what is certain is that they have distilled at Habitation Lajus in Le Carbet at least until 1974. Then things start to become more obscure. At some point, J.Bally has been bought up by Remy Cointreau and production shifted to the Domaine du Simon between 1986 and 1989, perhaps via Saint James. More than likely not much has changed production wise since the creole column still built by Mr. Bally has also been relocated. The evidence suggests that less than 10 years later, in 1998, the production of J.Bally had to move once more, this time to St. James (again!?). However, their still was in such bad conditions that it couldn’t be relocated anymore. Today, J.Bally should thus be distilled by St. James’ still, but I have also seen statements saying that it is still produced at Le Simon or Depaz even. Unfortunately, the oldest Bally I know is from 1998 hence I cannot do direct vertical comparisons. All I can say is that the Bally rhums are decidedly different from those of St. James, Clément and HSE (both distilled at Le Simon), or even Depaz if you want. But that can also be explained by other factors such as fermentations or barrel development and blending.
At the danger of repeating myself, the information on all of this are very contradictory and I am thankful for anything you can add! I almost feel guilty to go on to the tasting just like this but what can we do…
Once again I am going to taste these rhums semi-blindly. That is, I know which rhums I am going to taste but I have no clue which glass contains which rhum.
J. Bally 3YO (45%): Fresh and vegetal. Mineral and earthy notes can be found as well if you look past the initial cloud of alcohol and grassy aromas. It took a while but eventually this rhum also developed a tiny amount of glue in the nose. It has characteristics of both, young and more mature distillates. The nose is probably the least telling of the session. Taking a sip, the grassy aromas are quite dominant. Then more vegetal flavours (broccoli?) and a few spices, most notably muscat, cinnamon and cloves. It’s a decent rum but not very memorable. The finish has plenty of muscat and cloves but these aromas feel a bit misplaced overall. Not bad but not good either. We can definitely do better. (81/100)
J. Bally 7YO (45%): Quite peppery. Again, the rum needs some time in the glass to fully reveal all of its aromas. I get tea-like scents and slightly herbal fragrances as well as an idea of flowers. The first sip reveals that this is not the most typical agricole out there, it definitely has some points of contact with Batavia Arracks, as reviewed here. It gets a bit fruiter with the second and third sip but it always stays on the vegetal side (cauliflower). From the cask, we get cinnamon and vanilla, then plenty of grounded pepper. The pepper is actually quite dominant. The finish is longer than the 3YO’s but it has more of the ‘disturbing’ vegetal notes. What is it with these Ballys? The peppery profile is certainly interesting but not really for me. (79/100)
J. Bally 12YO (45%): J. Bally really has its very own note which reminds me of vegetables, mostly cauliflower perhaps. Then bubblegum, the very artificial sort. Moreover, I can find woody notes with a few chosen spices, but they only play second fiddle to the vegetables. Is it… chicory!? I hate to say it but I think it’s awful. Fortunately, the taste differs a bit from the scents. It’s very mild and oily. I get unripe apples and rotting vegetables as well as bitter notes of, yes, chicory. Rotting fruits are typically nice notes in high-ester rums, rotting vegetables in agricoles are not, at least not for me. The finish is bitter and slightly woody. Add the loathing notes of rotting vegetables and you get a rum which I wouldn’t recommend. Perhaps Bally, contrary to the Neissons, just has not been made for me. (77/100)
J. Bally XO (43%): This is the only one that is stepping out of line a bit. Its profile is quite different from the others. I get more chewing gum than with the 12YO as well as some weird fruit mix of papaya, guava and soursop. Perhaps also lemon grass!? It’s definitely a unique one. At the palate it is slightly grassy with guava and the soursop again. Also some flavours from the cask (cocoa?) which I didn’t find in the nose. Now also the lemon grass again. For me this rhum is quite the challenge, it is rare that I have such a hard time to pick out any notes. It is not because the rum is very restrained and doesn’t want to open up, much more because it is so unique and different from other agricoles that I don’t really know how to describe it. However, I don’t really like this one either, unfortunately. The finish is relatively long and bitter, with different spices as we have not encountered them before. The rhum is definitely interesting but personally I just cannot recommend these “standard” Ballys. (78/100)
I really like the two Brut de Fûts J.Bally released within the last year or so (Millésime 1998 and 1999). However, both were so woody that the actual Bally profile couldn’t really be discerned anymore. Perhaps that’s why I like them so much, I don’t know. Anyway, I am afraid that I cannot say the same about their standard range. Their profiles are just too special and don’t suit my personal palate. For me, the 3YO was the best of the bunch even and I feel that this tasting confused me more than it added to my understanding of the brand. I am sure that many people will disagree with me though. Malte for example, who enabled this tasting with his bottle splits. Thanks a lot!
Other impressions: Not many people have reviewed the standard Ballys. Lance really liked the 7YO but that’s all I found.