St. James Royal Ambre vs. St. James Hors D’Age

stjames_ambre_horsdage.jpgI’ve recently taken an interest in both Cachaca and Agricole, started by the thread I mentioned in my last post. Since I have only one cachaca I eyed my collection of agricoles.

I went looking through my rums for a couple to review, and came across two bottles of St. James – the Hors D’Age and the Royal Ambre. The labels on both contain the word Agricole in their descriptions and both contain the phrase “Appelation d’origine Controlée” on the label.

I have two other Martinique rums, the Kaniche and the Clement VSOP. The Kaniche says nothing about Agricole or Appelation d’origine Controlée. The Clement says both “V.S.O.P Rum” and “Rhum Clement V.S.O.P” – not an agricole by the looks of it. However, the back label says something perhaps a bit misleading: “The heirs of the H. Clement Estate…offer a wide variety of white rums all certified with the Appelation d’origine Controlée Martinique…” This seems to imply that it’s an agricole, but does not specifically say so. Nor can I find any info on the Web that says it’s an agricole or not, so I have to assume it’s not.

Update: According to Ed Hamilton, the Clement is an agricole:

Actually the Clement Estate bottles only AOC rhum agricole. And I should mention that Depaz Blue Cane Amber Rhum is also AOC rhum agricole, distilled at the Depaz distillery in Martinique and bottled on the island. In Martinique, the Depaz bottles carry the AOC mark and the words rhum agricole on the label, but the label for the US import market doesn’t have the AOC mark on the label. I am confident that it will be changed shortly.

I also noticed that both Saint James rums are products of Martinique, while the Kaniche and Clement are products of France. Does the rum have to be a product of Martinique or Guadeloupe to be an agricole? I’ll have to find out.

The Bottles
The label on the Royal Ambre states “Unique for it’s fruitiness, and rounded by two years of aging, Saint James Royal Ambre can be sipped by itself, but is the special secret of a true Planters’ Punch: 1/3 Saint James Amber, 1/3 orange juice, 1/3 pineapple juice, a dash of grenadine.”

The label on the Hors D’Age states: “A blend of very old rums matured in small oak casks. Each rum lends it’s own particular character to the blend, achieving the rich complexity, characteristic of fine spirits.”

The Ambre is 90 proof and a dark gold, while the Hors D’Age is 86 proof and even darker. The Amber smells sweet and of dark fruits, a wonderful smell which hints of strong tastes to come. The Hors D’Age is a bit sweeter smell, richer, and the fruitiness is stronger yet less complex, with one smell more dominating. Less alcohol comes through the Amber, while more oak comes through the Hors D’Age.

Royal Ambre
The Ambre’s taste covers the tongue with a taste of strong, dark fruits with hints of oak. A burn hits the back roof of the mouth, noticeable but not unpleasant, and the finish is very long and slow. More tastes and smells hit the mouth after the swallow.

This rum is not very sweet at all, though it’s smell implies that it will be. It’s decently complex with a few smells and tastes coming along the way. Not quite a sipping rum in my opinion, but I’d bet that a touch of water would do a world of good for this rum. The flavor is good – better if one likes bold tastes since this is not a subtle rum. There’s no doubt that the makers took care while making this rum, and the quality is clearly there.

This is a strong rum, in it’s alchol and most definitely in it’s flavors. It reminds me of a cognac in ways – actually more like a simpler, less sophisticated armagnac – with it’s approach to taste and smell.

For the $19 that I paid I’d certainly have to say that I got my money’s worth. It may take some work to figure out what to do with it’s bold tastes since it’s not quite a sipper, but I’m sure that I’ll be happy with the results.

Hors D’Age
This rum is not quite as complex, or as bold, in it’s taste compared to the Ambre. It’s flavors are certainly making themselves known, but not in the bold way the Ambre does. It’s simpler, and the tastes are more refined. Perhaps there are more tastes here but they’re being too subtle for me right now. It’s a bit smoother than the Ambre, with a finish about as long but with less flavors coming out after the swallow.

This is not a rum that I’d consider sweet at all, and most would probably consider this to be quite dry. There are less bold flavors here than the Amber, and a few more subtle ones – overall it’s somewhat complex. It’s quite smooth, and I’d have no problems sipping this one for a while. The flavor is good, though somewhat heavy on the oak. Though I usually don’t care for rums that have dominant oak tastes this one is well balanced with it’s heavy fruit. Again there’s no doubt that the makers took care with this rum – Saint James certainly seems to be a company that cares about high quality and it shows through.

I paid $33 for this rum, and I’m not so sure that I’d do it again. I think I can find better rums for this amount of cash. However I did buy this with the sole intent of using it in Mai Tais, so my idea of the value may change. If it makes an excellent Mai Tai it may very well be well worth the price tag.

Both of these rums seemed like they might benefit from some water. They are both slightly higher than 80 proof at 90 proof for the Ambre and 86 proof for the Hors D’Age. The water would smooth that out a bit, and hopefully bring out some more flavors. So I added a bit of water to bring both to a 1/4 or 1/5 water, and waited a few minutes.

While it did smooth the Ambre somewhat, it didn’t help the taste much. It’s flatter, a bit less complex. Actually I could say that the Amber is less enjoyable with the water. This may be a rum that gets an ice cube when I drink it.

It certainly smoothed out the Hors D’Age, but definitely brought it near a point of boredom. Well, not that bad but it had a greater effect on dulling the flavors. The finish is still great, with a very mild burn. The mouth still tingles after the swallow, but more from some lingering spice than from overall flavors.

If one ignores the price difference it’s a tough call between the two. The Hors D’Age is smoother, more refined, and more of a sipper. But I liked the bold tastes of the Ambre, the extra fruitiness, and the fact that it was slightly sweeter – or slightly less dry, really.

But when one considers the price there is a clear winner here: the Royal Ambre.

I still have hopes that the Hors D’Age will make a great Mai Tai. But that will be investigated another day.

I had started the night hoping to explore a couple agricoles, and I ended up comparing a couple aged rums. I have a tendency to purchase aged rums, since I started my rum research looking for sipping rums. I really must remember to get some unaged, white, not-quite-sipping-rums when I shop.

Hopefully I will soon find a couple quality white agricoles to compare. I’m still looking, but I haven’t been able to track any down within a reasonable driving distance. I’ll still keep looking, and if I don’t find any soon I may be making a very long drive for a couple bottles of agricole.