I’m in love with French rum, specifically Martinique AOC Rhum Agricole. It’s a very niche component of the rum market, but it’s full of amazing flavors and interesting stories to explore. While most of the distilleries seem to date back at least to the Napoleonic Wars (when the AOC was created), one distillery is a little newer and seemed to deserve a closer look: Neisson.
One of the more recently founded distilleries on the island, the brothers Jean and Adrien Neisson purchased 20 acres of land in 1922 with the intent of opening a rum distillery. Jean, the elder brother, traveled to Paris to study chemical engineering and to learn the ins and outs of the distillation process, returning in 1931 to build the facility and start operations before opening the distillery in 1932.
Adrien passed away in 1971 and left Jean in control of the company, which is when he started tinkering with the formula to produce a superior quality rum. Jean’s daughter Claudine took over after Jean’s death in 1986, and her son Gregory continues to run the operation to this day. The distillery remains one of the largest family owned private distilleries on the island.
- Learn More: What Is Rhum Agricole?
This is technically a Rhum Agricole Martinique AOC, which has probably the most restrictive requirements of any rum spirit in the Caribbean.
As a rhum agricole, this spirit is required to start from freshly pressed sugar cane juice rather than the usual backstrap molasses that you see with most cheap Caribbean rums. While Neisson has their own sugar cane fields, they also pull from other producers on the island, which varies the flavors that you get from the different raw ingredients.
Once cultivated and crushed into a juice, the sugar is added to some water and fermented for no more than five days to an alcohol content of 7.5% ABV. (The idea here is that the lower-than-usual alcohol content will allow more flavorful rum to be produced in the end.) Neisson specifically ferments their sugar for a full 72 hours, which is on the longer side of the spectrum and more likely to incorporate more complex flavors.
After fermentation, the liquid is distilled in a single column still to a spirit of between 65% and 75% ABV in alcohol content. That newly made spirit is proofed down and placed into previously used bourbon barrels to age.
It’s nice when a manufacturer goes a little off the beaten path for their bottle selection. In this case, we’ve got a fairly slim bottle, with flat sides and a very wide front. This shape really maximizes the amount of spirit you can see in the bottle, as the label also doesn’t obscure as much. That flat body then has a rounded shoulder that tapers all the way to the mouth of the bottle, which is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
One minor gripe here: having a constant taper from the shoulder to the mouth of the neck means that it’s less comfortable and controllable to hold. Most distilleries will even put a small bulge in the neck to make the bottle easier to hold, but this is having the opposite effect.
Back to things I like, though… let’s talk about the label. There’s just enough of a paper label to sport the relevant regulatory information, and I like the slate gray background and metallic silver lettering they went with here. It’s a stylish touch — but they also have some text that didn’t quite fit on the label, highlighting this as a Martinique Agricole rum and an illustration of a ship (for color). Those elements are inked onto the bottle itself, though, allowing for maximum transparency for the liquor within.
There are some really nice fruity notes in the aroma here, which are the first thing you get coming off the glass. Right off the bat, there are some typical fermentation components of mango, banana, and pineapple, which are quickly followed by the herbal aspect of raw cane sugar from the raw materials, and then a nice mixture of vanilla, caramel, toffee, and brown sugar from the barrel aging process.
Things rearrange themselves subtly in the flavor but, generally, what you smell is what you get. The flavor starts out with some brown sugar sweetness and quickly sees some pineapple and banana fruit added to the mix. From there, the maturation flavors start to build — specifically, some toffee caramel and vanilla, which are the components that really linger towards the finish.
On the end, we find the only derogatory note I really have for this rum, which is that there’s a bit of bitterness at the finish that puts a small damper on the whole affair. It really only seems to build after the flavors have disappeared, but it’s the only unfortunate component of an otherwise really delicious and subtle rum.
The good news here is that the bitterness on the finish is completely gone. Ice has a tendency to mellow out those harsher components, and (thankfully) that’s exactly what happened here. Unfortunately, though, that added ice has also wiped out many of the more fruity aspects, too.
In this version, the barrel aging components seem to be really leading the way. The vanilla, caramel, and toffee are the stars of the show, acting a lot more like an American bourbon than a French rum. This makes sense, given that these were aged in bourbon barrels. But what’s interesting is that the fruity notes aren’t completely gone. Specifically, that herbal raw sugar note is still present and adding a bit of a lift to the flavors, and in the background you can still see the pineapple trying to make an appearance.
This isn’t quite the same spirit on ice as it was taken neat, but it fares much better than some other rums we’ve tried.
Fizz (Dark and Stormy)
There’s something interesting and different happening in this cocktail. It isn’t the traditional dark and stormy that we’re used to seeing; instead, there’s a lot more tropical fruit coming through. It’s almost like a brighter and shinier fruit punch — with an adult, alcoholic twist.
What’s undeniable is that the pineapple is finally the star of the show here. The barrel aging components (like the brown sugar and toffee) are there supporting those fruity flavors and providing some depth, but they don’t steal the spotlight. The fruity aspects really nicely compliment the ginger beer and make this something that I could see sipping on a warm summer day.
Neisson did something interesting and different here by using old American bourbon barrels for their maturation process and, in general, I think it’s a positive improvement. Some of those same characteristics have been imparted to the rum giving it a depth and a complexity that you don’t always see and that’s appreciated. But what’s holding me back from giving this more praise is the bitterness on the finish, which isn’t something I’ve seen with other Martinique AOC products.
|Neisson Rhum Vieux|
Produced By: NeissonProduction Location: Martinique, France
Classification: Agricole Rum
Special Type: Martinique AOC
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $76.62 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
A fruity rum with some bourbon characteristics, but just a touch of bitterness on the finish.