Over the last couple of years we have received more 1998 Bellevues than we can count. However, these don’t originate from Marie-Galante’s Bellevue Distillery but from the Damoiseau Distillery, which is located on Grande-Terre. There’s a funny connection between the two distilleries though: Bellevue’s distiller Hubert Damoiseau is the cousin of Hervé Damoiseau, who is running the Damoiseau Distillery.
In 1998, Hervé Damoiseau apparently sold some molasses rum to The Main Rum Company. From his point of view, the quantities weren’t that big but given the large number of releases and casks we have got so far I’d be telling a different story. However, he also said that he will never do it again because many independent bottlers are often not very honest. This made me curious so we (my pal Nico and me, whom I was talking to about this) had to inquire again. According to Mr Damoiseau, the rum made it to Europe in a steel tank (well, what else…), so it stopped aging at this point. I was thinking that this is pretty much the usual process, so basically this has to mean that the rum stayed in the steel tank for longer than just the time it took it to cross the Atlantic. So we asked again and Hervé told us the following: “Let’s say distillation [in] 1998[,] aging in Guadeloupe till 2005[,] tank in [The] Netherlands till 2013[,] cask in whatever country of Europe till 2015.” At first we weren’t sure whether this is just an example or the real story but eventually the Transcontinental Rum Line released their very own rum from this batch (Grande-Terre 1998) in 2017. The label reads: 53% aged in continental weather. With that information, a deal in 2005 is certainly very plausible! Moreover, note that they did not write ‘47% aged in tropical weather’, which would leave the steel tank as a possibility for the remaining years. Of course, bottlers often times have inaccurate information themselves and The Main Rum Company did not respond to further inquiries on that matter, so we have to interpret this with a grain of salt. I am not exactly sure about how E.A. Scheer handles things in Amsterdam but, to the best of my knowledge, Main Rum typically immediately puts all the rum that arrives in Liverpool into barrels. The tanks don’t even have to touch the ground for this! Here’s another crux in the story: Main Rum is only offering rums that are at least eight years old. If it arrived in the Netherlands in 2005, it had to be six to seven years old already. The first of these rums came out in 2013 though, meaning that it probably has not been offered to bottlers before that point, which would point towards the steel tank story. If this is true, the years the rum has spent in these tanks should indeed not count towards the age statement but given the lack of information and transparency we have to continue the investigations ;).
Another thing Hervé told us is that he originally sold bulk because he thought it was for the baking industry. He didn’t really expect independent bottlers, which he might regard as competition, to pick up and bottle his rum! When Nico talked to him, Hervé was amazed by the prices that some of the bottlers such as Silver Seal have been charging. In hindsight, he’s probably just a bit mad that he is not earning this profit. For what it’s worth, Florent from Compagnie des Indes let us know that Main Rum re-casked the rum shortly after receiving the tanks in the UK. But again this does not clarify it entirely since either the rum has been shipped directly to the UK (the Netherlands part in Hervé’s example is not correct) which would mean a correct age statement or it indeed stayed in the tanks in Amsterdam where it rested, waiting to be shipped to Liverpool. This would imply faulty age statements of course. In that case, it is not the bottlers who are to blame though cause how should they know!? The Main Rum Company ought to tell them.
One last thing: I do not want to blame either side here, I merely try to pass on the information. What you make out of it is up to you of course!
Since these rums are all part of the same batch, they share some distinct characteristics. Made from molasses, they have an incredibly herbal profile and you can find notes of liquorice and honey in most of them. What is more, since they already aged for a long time on Guadeloupe before they were thrown together in the steel tank to make the trip across the atlantic, only the time it spent in casks in Liverpool was able to produce any differences in their aromas and flavours. Hence they are naturally more similar than some other rums we know.
What have we tried so far? In a blind-tasting we’ve had the Duncan Taylor from the same batch. Moreover, I reviewed this trio of full proof Damoiseaus which have a few similarities and this very old Damoiseau from 1953, which has absolutely nothing in common with what we get here. Allez!
Rum Artesanal Bellevue 1998 19YO (55,5%): Right at the beginning we have a rather atypical one. Its nose is less heavy and ‘dark’ than that of the others but it comes with fresh notes of mint and a very light and clean sort of honey instead. Then a hint of bitumen and exotic spices as well as some liquorice. After having your nose in the glass for a while these aromas seemingly vanish and you are left with increasingly clean notes of honey. The taste is somewhat heavier and I am surprised that this hasn’t been distilled by a pot still. I get plenty of ginger bread, rich and fruit cake as well as mushroom-like notes. The taste isn’t as fresh as the nose anymore but every now and then you can clearly taste some minty notes. The finish is rather long and spicy with woody notes and a few chili flakes. It’s quite good but as I said, not the most typical one. That’s something that you will only note in a cross-tasting though I think. (85/100)
Rumdealer’s Selection Guadeloupe 1998 15YO (56,5%): This rum has a funny mistake on the label which reads “South Pacific Distillery”. That’s located in Fiji of course and Guadeloupe is about as far away from the South Pacific as possible. To the rum. This should be your quintessential Bellevue 1998. It’s all there in the nose: The herbs, liquorice, honey, sugar cane juice and exotic spices such as anise. Then orange peel and full-flavoured orange-juice. Putting my nose deeper in the glass I was surprised by a sudden cloud of alcoholic vapour. After a while it transforms a bit towards a fresher profile as we’ve had it with the Rum Artesanal. Taking a sip, I get port wine, dark, dried fruits, raisins and again plenty of herbs. With the second sip also salted liquorice and a freshly tarred road. The herbs are still very present, of course. The finish is long, slightly bitter and rather dirty with Earl Grey tea and tar. Not bad, my friends! (86/100)
The Rum Cask Bellevue 1998 18YO (56,6%): Here we have a very full and heavy nose. A mixed bag of wild herbs meets ‘darker’ notes of molasses, tar and liquorice. There are a few of the sweeter notes to be found here but they remind me of a mix of fresh cane juice and forest honey. The nose promises a very balanced, yet rather intense rum. Wow, this is good. Herbs, forest honey, molasses, fruit tart, salted liquorice, tobacco, black tea and dried fruits (cherries, prunes etc) balance each other out. It’s amazing how this rum is just so complex and balanced at the same time. The finish… is a real problem for me though and I cannot even describe why. It is slightly sour and bitter at the same time and somehow too long for my liking. It think it is lacking the sweeter elements that I can find in the others (even though I haven’t pointed that out). A top-notch Guadeloupian molasses rum if it weren’t for the finish. (87/100)
The Duchess Bellevue 1998 19YO (54,9%): At least in the nose it is at first glance difficult to distinguish this from the The Rum Cask above, it’s a bit more alcoholic though (probably too alcoholic in direct comparison). Relatively spoken, the profile is rather earthy with dried fruits, slightly vegatal notes and associations of peanuts. Then peppermint and sharp citrus notes. The nose leaves me puzzled but perhaps the taste can illuminate us. At the palate, the rum is rather light and more watery than the others. I get the characteristic herb/ honey combination paired with fruit juice (mango/maracuya). It’s very one-dimensional and tastes like it has been diluted. Finish: Medium long with honey and sweet liquorice. Perhaps the best part of the rum but nevertheless it is the first disappointment so far. (81/100)
Transcontinental Rum Line Grande-Terre 1998 19YO (59,3%): I don’t think we ever had a Bellevue from 1998 with a higher abv. That should be interesting as sometimes small differences can mean the world with some rums. Here it seems to be excessively alcoholic. In the nose, the alcohol is disturbingly more present than in the other bottlings. The aromas I get are an indeterminate mix of herbs and spices, honeydew melon, honeycomb and warm butter. After a while the alcoholic notes dissipate a bit but never vanish entirely. At the palate, the rum is way smoother with dark notes of molasses and liquorice. Then the herbs and weeds but barely any honey. Instead a slightly sweet and very pronounced malty note. The finish is medium long with herbs and malts, a straightforward extension of the palate. All in all it’s okay but we’ve had way better ones today. (82/100)
This cross-tasting has demonstrated that the differences between the bottlings are actually larger than I expected. Beforehand I thought that they are all on a very similar level. Nevertheless, we have two clear winner and losers today, as well as a pleasant surprise. The surprise is the Rum Artesanal, which has more differences to the rest of the bunch than I expected. After having numerous of the rums this has been a welcome addition! The Rumdealer’s Selection and The Rum Cask are both great and exactly what I am looking for in these rums. As far as the losers are concerned, The Duchess is too watery and thin compared to the others, the Transcontinental Rum Line too alcoholic.
My thanks goes to anyone who has been splitting bottles and or providing samples, to Hervé Damoiseau and Florent Beuchet for their contributions, and, most of all, Nico from Rhum Attitude and Couer de chauffe for his help!