So I love rum, that’s obviously why I write this blog, but if I’m honest, my main passion is for Australian rum. I feel that Australian rum is on the cusp of something big. For years rum in Australia has suffered from a bad reputation with most people believing that it is represented by the one major player (no names mentioned here).
But over the last few years there’s been somewhat of a quiet renaissance going on. More distilleries have been turning their hands to rum and gradually they are coming of age and being released. Some of these distilleries are building quite a reputation for offering good quality, well made spirits that certainly deserve to be taken more seriously than the big white polar bear is churning out at the moment.
One distillery that has really caught my attention is Husk. I’ve written before about their 3 year old Tumbulgum 1866 Agricole. I think I even called it the best Australian rum I’ve ever tried.
So a few days ago I jumped at the chance to attend a master class that they were running in Brisbane. I took my wife Jools along for moral support (And to drive me home)
The location was at the newly opened Barbossa Bar in the Southbank precinct in South Brisbane. It turns out that owner Tepil Cafer and Manager Alex Brinsdon have gone into collaboration with Husk to showcase the distillery in Brisbane. These guys obviously have a passion for good spirits and they gave me the impression that they are all about providing a quality service and not just another watering hole among all the others in the same area.
Another winner for me was discovering that they also have Red Stripe Lager on tap. So thinking that surely a night of trying rums should be started off with a Jamaican beer I quickly ordered a pint.
Before we knew it we were ushered into the “Captains Den” Where we met Tepil and Alex along with Quentin the Head Distiller and Mauricio – Brand Ambassador/ Distiller Assistant or as he likes to say “Paddock to Bar Man” from Husk Distillers who were to be our hosts for the night.
After initial introductions we got straight into some sampling. First up was the New Make Pure Cane. This is a totally un-aged Agricole cane spirit. In most places elsewhere this would be called an un-aged rum but due to the Australian law of all cane spirit requiring at least two years ageing in oak barrels, it cannot legally be called rum.
So this isn’t intended to be a post about tasting notes but the Pure Cane has a beautifully fresh and almost citrusy aroma with a very faint hint of warm toffee. The spirit itself has a lovely sweet grassy flavour. With no influence from any wood, you really do get to sample how pure cane juice tastes straight from the still. Quentin and Mauricio went to great lengths to explain how Husks paddock to bottle operation works. I’m not sure how many times they’ve presented their products in this way but I found that their enthusiasm and passion was infectious. I couldn’t help getting lost in the moment as they regaled us with stories about how Husk came into existence and in particular how they decided to produce the French style Agricole rum rather than the more usual molasses style rums.
Quentin then gave us a demonstration as to how to make a Ti- Punch (or “little punch” in Creole) He amused us with stories about how the drink should be drunk properly (definitely no ice!) and it’s popularity among the French Islands of the Caribbean. The authenticity was only added to by his French / Martinique accent.
As Mauricio charged our glasses, we were given the opportunity to make our own versions and this was added by various sugars and fruits available on each table. I stuck with the more traditional sugar and cheek of lime. Beautiful.
Next we moved on to their aged Agricole rum. Now I’m more familiar with this. I’ve already finished one bottle of the 1866 release and am onto my second. I’ve previously reviewed this offering here. There’s not a lot more I can add to this that I haven’t already said. Quentin and Mauricio explained the production and ageing process. Three years in virgin charred oak. It was explained that due to the large variations in climate the interaction between the spirit and the wood is quite significant. Husk Distillery is in Tumbulgum in Far North New South Wales where they have very hot summer days and cold winter nights. This causes a lot of expansion and contraction of the barrels. I was also interested to discover that in this climate the Angels Share (Evaporation) averages about 5% per year. Not a huge amount compared to the Caribbean maybe but still a significant amount.
After the 1866 were were provided with some fantastic canapés. This isn’t intended to be an advert for either Husk or for Barbossa but the attention to detail was amazing. The food was delicious and complimented the spirits well with smoked salmon and jerked chicken amongst others. Tepil later explained that their idea is to provide an Agricole Desgustation. It certainly added to the night and was welcome after Mauricio’s generous pours!
We still hadn’t finished and next up was Husks entry into spiced rum “Spiced Bam Bam”. Now before I go on, I should explain that this is no ordinary spiced rum. I’m not a fan of them, as to me they are usually just a rum flavoured alcohol with all manner of added flavourings or essences. Husk however have taken their aged Agricole rum (the same that is used for the 1866) and have infused botanicals with it in much the same way that gin is infused with botanicals. There’s no artificial flavourings here. They are genuine botanicals that give Bam Bam it’s distinctive flavour. I have a confession to make here. When the Bam Bam was first released I ran out and immediately ordered a bottle (Okay I didn’t run anywhere – I ordered it online) When the bottle arrived I immediately tried it and I must admit I felt disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected at the time but I remember finding it very rich and the spices overpowering. I also tried it neat – as I do with all rums when I first try them. I then placed it back into my rum cabinet and that is where it stayed. Maybe it was all the truth serum that Mauricio had been pouring but I explained this to Quentin and Mauricio. So I was extremely pleased to discover that I had a totally different experience this time round. The flavours seemed more subtle and intricate.
I really enjoyed picking out the different flavours. This isn’t like a massed produced spiced rum. You can tell that the base is a quality agricole and that the botanicals used have been carefully selected to compliment it. Quentin explained that while he was experimenting with the flavours he found that it was slightly lacking something. During a conversation with his Mum she suggested that like all good food, salt can bring it all together. Quentin decided to try adding sea salt and it worked. He also explained that he’s added a small amount of sugar. Adding sugar to rum to me is a big turn off and is usually done to hide or smooth out a bad spirit but in my opinion its totally legitimate in a spiced rum.
As with everything that Husk do, Quentin and Mauricio were totally honest about the addition of sugar to the Bam Bam. It would be nice if some of the multi national producers could just be as open. But let’s not get hung up on that.
I’ve since discovered that spiced Bam Bam works wonderfully in a Dark and Stormy. (30ml Bam Bam, Squeeze of half a lime, topped up with ginger beer)
The night ended with general discussions about all things rum and we were lucky enough to sample a couple of barrel proof rums that had undergone different finishes.
The evening felt more like a group of friends discussing a common passion rather than a marketing exercise for the distiller. The conversation diversified between rum, cows, sugars, holidays, gin and many other topics.
A most enjoyable night amongst great company.