An Agricole Rhum Tasting

The other day I had a couple minutes to kill before a meeting, so I hit Google looking to find any mention of rum tastings in Boston. The third link listed “An Evening of Rum & Bossa Nova at UpStairs” in Harvard Square. The blurb didn’t say much about the rum other than mentioning “AOC Martinique Rums” and I my curiosity was piqued about tasting some more agricoles. Then I noticed the date and time – the event started in 3 hours! What kind of luck was that, eh?

After work I drove into Harvard Square, found the place, and parked in one of those tiny parking garages that charge you by the minute. I walked over to the restaurant – UpStairs On The Square is the full name – and inquired about the rum tasting. When asked if I had a reservation my heart sank at the thought that I had wasted a trip into Cambridge and $10 for 12 minutes of parking. But they found room for one more person, and I was in.

I was 10 minutes early, and one of the few people in the room, so I browsed some the placards they had lying around. They listed agricoles from J.M. and Clément, and the small menus by every setting listed a tasting menu of drinks paired with food. Interesting. A moment later a gentlemen introduced himself, and it turned out to be Benjamin Jones from Clément, who I have had some email conversations with in my quest to learn more about agricole. We chatted about this blog, agricoles, my recent review of the Clément XO, and this event.

Ben introduced me to the local distributor of Clément and J. M., Jim Robbeson, and we discussed the difficulties of finding agricoles in Massachusetts. Jim mentioned that he was expecting to deliver some J.M. and Clément to a couple of Boston stores, Brix and Charles Street Liquors.

Créole Shrubb
People were slowly coming in, and the wait staff appeared with trays of a tiny cocktail – Clément Créole Shrubb with the house-made Orange Sorbet. The Shrubb is an excellent orange liqueur made with rum as a base, and it matched perfectly with the sorbet. It was a delicious way to start the evening.

Clément Première Canne
After a few minutes most of the people were in and the bar manager, Augusto Lino, got up to say a few words and introduce Ben Jones, who spoke a bit about the rums and some more about the island of Martinique. The wait staff delivered small cocktails mixing Clément Première Canne with wildflower honey, cucumber and lemon juice. The cocktail was excellent, allowing the smells and flavors of the agricole to clearly come through while nicely balancing the distinct flavors. The food, salmon with cucumber and a cherry-honey and creme fraiche, was an excellent match for the rum, and all the flavors complimented each other very well. Nicely done!

Clément VSOP
Next up was the Clément VSOP, neat, served with sesame-encrusted asparagus on a plate covered with a delicious yuzu emulsion. The VSOP is a fantastic rum with a multitude of rich floral notes delicately balanced by earthy tones and the barrel tastes produced by the complex aging process. It’s a wonderful rum, one that I have on-hand and need to fully review. It went well with the asparagus, but I think I was thinking too much about the rum to really appreciate it.

I chatted a bit with a couple at the table who seemed to be primarily bourbon and single-malt drinkers. Though my dislike of whisky and whiskey limited the conversation, I did try to explain a bit about rums, and suggested a few I think whiskey drinkers would enjoy.

Rhum J. M. Blanc
Ben got up again and spoke while the wait staff delivered the next round – a cocktail with Rhum J. M. Blanc and Ahi tuna with caramelized banana and clove. Again the cocktail was very good – a mix of the J. M. and lime juice and a house-made ginger beer – though not quite up to the level of the first cocktail. Still, one could tell that the pairing was considered carefully and done well.

J. M. Blanc Vintage 1997
After some more words from Ben and Lino, the last rum of the night was delivered – the J. M. Blanc Vintage 1997. This was an exquisite rum, very complex with the floral and earthy notes typical to agricoles, well balanced with some nuttiness and a lot of vanilla. It’s a cask-strength rum, so after a number of sips I had to tone it down a bit with a single ice cube. This brought out a lot of vanilla and some sweetness and turned it into a truly exquisite rum. The dessert served with this rum was a nutmeg flan, which was quite good despite though the flan itself seemed a bit underdone. It was, however, no match for the rum, which was simply exceptional. I can’t wait to add this rum to my collection.

By the end of the night I considered myself extremely lucky to have experienced this rum tasting event. It started with chance hit on Google, followed by getting the last seat available without a reservation, followed by almost 3 hours of excellent food and exceptional rum. I loved the care taken to match the rums to the food, and especially the creation of the cocktails which accentuated the rums.

I certainly enjoyed meeting Ben and Jim and discussing the Clément rhums, as well as talking to that couple about the similarities between fine bourbons, whiskeys, and rums. On the way out I managed to catch Lino, a Brazilian, and we discussed cachacas a bit. It was a very fine night of drink, food, and conversation.

This tasting gave me a much better understanding of agricoles and certainly a much better appreciation for them. Hopefully I’ll get my hands on both J.M. rhums sometime next week, thanks to Jim telling us about a couple stores that should be stocking them soon. I’ll have to beat the couple at my table, though, as they were planning on buying 3 or 4 bottles of the J. M. 1997. And if they read this – I was wrong. I estimated about $60 a bottle, but it seems like it will be closer to $90, judging from some searches on the web. Expensive, yes, but not too bad for a rum like this.

Lino’s Blog (edit)
I just stumbled upon a blog entry from Lino, the bar manager at Upstairs and the creator of the fine cocktails had that night. He talks about the night, and it’s interesting to get a view from behind the scenes. Check it out at: