Père Labat is distilled at the Poisson Distillery on Marie-Galante, which has been founded by the Poisson family in 1860. Starting out as a sugar mill, it was Edouard Rameau (probably related to Paul Rameau, who has been involved with the Bielle Distillery since the 1940s) who bought the property in 1916, installed a distillery and added the name Père Labat, under which it is mostly known for today.
Père Labat was a French clergyman, botanist writer and much more. Crucially, he devised a novel method for manufacturing sugar on Martinique, which remained the industry standard for a long time. Distillation at Poisson is pretty standard I’d say, except for their over 100-year-old copper Coffey still which, to the best of my knowledge, is still producing their rhum today. Since this is my first real cross-tasting of Père Labats I am not really familiar with their products and hence don’t know its general flavour profile and what to expect. We will see!
Père Labat 8YO (42%): This smells like a rather young distillate, not at all like an 8YO… I get a continental fruit basket, hay, raw vanilla bean and behind all of that a somewhat dirty, earthy note slightly reminiscent of foul vegetables. It’s really not that great actually. I hope this gets better at the palate. The taste is quite similar to the nose, even though I’d use different words to describe my associations. While the rhum is not really sweet, I get sweetened cherries, the vanilla bean and hay, dirt (soil) from gardening and cress. Taking for itself, this wouldn’t be bad but here it all doesn’t really work very well together. As I feared at the beginning, the rhum is less mature than the age statement indicates, which is also reflected in the very flat finish. It’s not really good and somehow tastes like this has been produced a century ago, when production techniques weren’t as well-developed as they are today. I managed to get this at a very good price in a bottle split but the rhum is definitely not worth what it is selling for these days. (76/100)
Père Labat 1997 (42%): Unfortunately we do not know the age of this one… Nose: Quintessential Guadeloupean agricole but closer to the mainland than to Marie-Galante if you ask me, or J.M even! Pears and indian fig, apple pie with vanilla sauce, cinnamon, selected raisins and chestnuts. It’s a relatively familiar combination but it works! The palate takes on exactly where the nose stopped. The alcohol is just a little bit too sharp for this low abv but it does a good job at delivering the rum’s flavours. The notes from the nose are all there but now we have to add cereal, cherries and vanilla pudding. It’s getting closer to J.M by the minute. Finish: Medium long with the cereals, vanilla pudding/ pie and oak. A very solid rum without any real weaknesses or flaws, but also no accentuated highlights. Unfortunately, it never was a bargain. (80/100)
Père Labat 1985 (54,5%): As with the previous one, we don’t know the rhum’s age but it should be quite old. Anyway, the higher abv should be more interesting than the age. The nose is already quite a bit more bitter than that of the two first rhums. I get lots of wood, grape must, tannins, orange peel and marmalade, walnut oil, cider and dried oregano in the background. It seems to be rather simple at first but then there’s quite a lot to discover. What I am missing a bit are some of the fresher, fruity elements we’ve had in the younger (I think it is rather safe to assume that the other rums are all younger) ones. At the palate we encounter a very full texture with the same set of tannins and bitter notes from the nose. It takes a while but after a few seconds we finally notice that this rhum might indeed come from the same distillery as the former two. Once again, this one must be rather old as the cask has adulterated the spirit substantially. It didn’t destroy the distillate (as it did with the Damoiseau 1953 31YO for instance) but we have to start questioning if the rhum might have been better at a younger age. In a sense it is very close to old Armagnacs, especially since the grape must comes through time and again. Moreover, there are lots of spices from the cask, the walnut oil and, needless to say, plenty of wood. The finish is long and relatively bitter, but not in an unpleasant way. Flavourwise, it’s just an extension of the palate. This is a rhum for the hardcore fans. A few people will absolutely love it but I guess for the majority it will just be a nice one. For my liking it could have been more balanced. (81/100)
… and, who would have guessed, everyone’s favorite bottler Velier also has a Labat upon its sleeve so let’s try that one as well.
Velier Père Labat 2010 6YO (57,5%): A blend of two barrels. Nose: Yes! This smells pretty much exactly like the balance between young fruitiness and old elegance we’ve been looking for. I get lots of vanilla, some cherries, apple pie with a pudding layer, African spice mix, thyme and sweet pork ribs. The aromas are not as intense and bundled as with the 1985 or 1997 (despite the higher abv!) but nevertheless this is the perfect compromise between the bitter, mature face of Père Labat and the somewhat more fruity side. The palate works just as well. At first we are on the bitter, Armagnac-like side, way closer to the 1985 with its walnut oil and tannins but bridged by the spice mix from the nose we transition to apple compote with cloves, raisins and more grassy notes. Roast apple perhaps. Interestingly, I cannot find much of the vanilla or cherries that were prominently featured in the nose or some of the other rhums in the session. The finish is medium long with lots of wood, the familiar spice mix and thyme. Here and there a walnut pops up as well. A very good rhum and easily the best rhum of this session. It combines the strength of the previous ones without having any of their respective weaknesses. (86/100)
I really wonder why Poisson/ Père Labat never got the attention they deserve. I guess it has a lot to do with availability and marketing but somehow you don’t really hear a lot from them. Now it probably will never become one of my favorites but as we have seen they are very capable of producing good rhum and are among the “second-row” distilleries that are worth checking out. As stated above, the Velier bottling was my favorite rhum of the session, followed by the 1997. The 1985 was too woody and special for my liking and might be a very nice rhum for lovers of Armagnac. The big downside of these rhums are their prices. While the rhums, with the exception of the 8YO, are quite good, they are all priced very ambitiously and none of them is really worth the amount they are selling for if you ask me. So if you are looking for value-for-money, better look elsewhere.