Plantation Masterclass UK

Going through the Facebook posts on a Friday, I came across a post about available seats for a Masterclass with Alexandre Gabriel, the person behind the Plantation Rum's. Already scheduled to take place in London the following Monday. There is also an option to take part in the Cognac Ferrand cocktail book release party at Trailer Happiness later the same evening. Fast forward to Monday morning, I'm heading to the airport for my flight to London. A Masterclass with Alexandre Gabriel about the Plantation Rum's has been on my wish list for a while. So heading out of -5 degree, snowstorm covered Copenhagen airport, was definitely a good way to start the week.

The Masterclass took place at Kench & Bibesy, a new bar and restaurant located on 50-52 Long Lane. I arrived in good time for some small talk with Paul McFadyen, Co-Owner of Trailer Happiness and part of the Instil Drinks Co. team. Instil Drinks Co. is the company that import and distribute Plantation Rum's in the UK. Looking at the bar, there was a great line-up of the current Plantation Rum's available for sale in the UK, but it's the 15 small sample bottles that got my main interest. These bottles are the Single Cask releases that will be released sometime in September 2014. The sample bottles are sent to the importers in each country and based on those, bars and shops make a decision to purchase a single cask release bottled for with their own name on the label. Minimum order is 1/3 cask = 144 bottles (70cl)

Being early also gave me the option to get some nice pictures of these new releases. The following Single Cask sample bottles, where available:

Barbados 15 year 42%, finish Sherry
Belize XO 41%, finish Pineau des Charentes
Cuba 1998 42%, finish Madera
Fidji 2001 41%, finish Cognac/Calvados
Guatemala XO 40%, finish Sauternes
Guyana 24 year 45%, finish Cognac/Armagnac
Haiti 2004 40%, double Cognac ageing
Jamaica 1998 63,9%, finish Tokay
Jamaica 1999 65%, finish Sherry
Jamaica Guyana 19 year 42%, 100% pot still, finish Porto
Multi-Island 47%, finish Pineau des Charentes
Panama 8 year 43%, finish Pineau des Charentes
Trinidad 1997 41%, finish Pierre Ferrand Abel
Trinidad 1999/2001/2003 46%, finish Claret
Trinidad 25 year 53%, finish Ferrand Ancestral 73 year old cask

Which releases that will be available in which country is currently not known, also the %abv of the rum's when bottled is also not known. Alexandre Gabriel arrives in good time for some small talk before the masterclass starts.

The masterclass started out with a presentation of what makes Plantation Rum unique.

Alexandre Gabriel mentioned the term Terroir and described briefly that this covers the Geography, Geology and climate of an area. For the plantation Rum's this would be different depending on which specific rum we are talking about. So this step was not discussed in further detail.

Double Aging
The double aging technique where rum first aged in tropical climate is shipped to Cognac Ferrand in France and then filled into Pierre Ferrand Cognac casks for a second aging. The Plantation rum's in the Old Reserve range (Yellow label), are all double aged. The rum's that's used for the single cask series, normally moves on to a third type of cask in order to add additional taste and complexity. Cognac Ferrand usese a wide range of casks for this purpose (Porto, Armagnac, Tokay, Sherry, Pineau des Charentes, Marsala and more). When the rum is aged in its country of origin, it's primarily aged in once used Bourbon casks made of American oak.  From the American oak we get flavours of Vanilla and Coconut (among others). For Cognac production, French limousine oak is used. French oak contributes with tannins to the spirit.

The French oak is different in its structure compared to American oak. To prevent the spirit inside the cask from leaking out through the wood, the French oak must be split in a special way. You can't cut the wood like in the production of American oak casks. This increases the price of the cask. An American oak cask costs around $150 and a French Oak cask has a cost of $1000. Because the wood is split and not cut, the wood can bend more without splitting.

If during aging it is decided that a cask is no longer contributing with enough wood/Tannins flavour, a technique called “redouellage” (or “restaving” in English) is used. A single or a few (no more then 3) staves are replaced in the cask. Inserting new staves increase the wood/tannins flavours. It's important not to replace to much wood at a time as to much tannins in the rum would "destroy" the rum. According to Alexandre Gabriel, mixing a rum with to much tannins with a rum with less tannins is not acceptable. Should the rum get too much tannin flavour, the rum is considered spoiled. Instead of replacing staves, it's also possible to replace part of, or all the wood used at the end of the cask (top/bottom). Alexandre pointed out that this method must not be confused with “interstaving,” where additional staves are placed inside the cask.

During aging in the casks, it's important to check the rum inside the cask every 2-3 months. A technique called “élevage” is used. Translated into English, this would best be described as nurturing. It is clear to see if a producer is using this technique. All the casks are stored horizontal so its possible to take samples from the casks through the bong hole. According to Alexandre Gabriel placing the casks upright on a pallet, stacked to the ceiling is not aging in his terms, its storage. Storing the rum in casks for several years and hoping that what's inside turn out ok, is not the way to do it. The content must be checked on a regular basis. In essence its about wood management, changing the flavour characteristics of the rum by moving the casks between several cellar's with different humidity. Cognac Ferrand has 8 different cellars, ranging from dry (cement floor) to quite humid (Earth floor, slightly dug in but never underground, casks placed towards north facing walls to keep out of sun).
In a dry cellar the rum gets spicy flavours and the rum gets more dry. In a dry cellar water evaporate faster then alcohol. In a humid cellar the rum gets floral flavours, and becomes more round and smooth. In a humid cellar alcohol evaporate faster then water. A humid cellar is desribed as warm, dark, damp and mouldy. Since this is the cellar that has the highest alcohol evaporation (highest Angel share), this is where you will find the black fungus ( Baudoinia compniacensis) on the walls of the cellar.

La Technique des Petites Eaux
Alexandre Gabriel also touched the subject of hydrating the rum (lowering the alcohol content of the rum from cask to bottle strength). This is a "One shot gun" Alexandre explained. When you add water to a spirit, it will reveal all of its hidden flavours, like a final explosion before it fade away. This however only works one time, so when the rum at cask strenght is going to be bottled, it is important that the water used to hydrate the rum is not just poured into the rum just before bottling. At Cognac Ferrand they have perfected the ancient technique of aging very pure water and using this aged water (Petite Eaux) to slowly hydrating the rum, only lowering the alcohol level over time in steps of 2-3% each time. Many years ago this was done using rainwater which over time was replaced with distilled water. Today water that has been osmosed is used. For hydrating the plantation rum's, Cognac Ferrand uses water aged in casks previously used for plantation rum. It is now still possible for the consumer or bartender to add water to the Plantation Rum and experience this release of flavours. This can be done by simply adding a few drops of water og by adding ice.

A topic recently discussed on Facebook is "Sugar added to rum". I talked with Alexandre before the Masterclass and we discussed about sugar in rum. During the Masterclass, Alexandre brought up the subject. For Cognac Ferrand, sugar is like adding salt to a dish in order to increase flavours. Alexandre described a process used in Champagne production called Dosage where sugar is diluted with cognac that has been distilled 3 times. This is then aged and added to Champagne. After the Masterclass I sent a question to Alexandre Gabriel if this is the same method used for his Plantation Rum's. For Plantation Rum's cane sugar diluted in rum is aged and it's then being used to get the correct flavour profile in the rum.

These where the notes I got with me from the Masterclass. We of course also got to taste some of the Plantation Rum's during the Masterclass. We tasted some of the rum's currently available for sale in the UK and one of the new Single Casks that will be available in September 2014. After the "official part" of the Masterclass, most of us went downstairs to the speakeasy bar located behind the hidden door that looks like a brick wall. Here all the rums was placed on the bar and we where allowed to taste what ever we like. Needless to say that this was an awesome experience. Some really good rums in the upcoming single cask releases.

Leaving the Masterclass, we stopped by for something to eat (at Honest burger) before continuing the evening at Trailer Happiness and the release party of "London Calling" the 3rd cocktail book by Cognac Ferrand. The atmosphere and the people at Trailer Happiness is really something you should experience if you happen to be in London. Knowing that I had to catch a flight back to Copenhagen the following morning, I headed out of Trailer Happiness around 23.00 just after Trailer's own bartender Jim Wrigley demonstrated how to make two of the cocktails from the book. Leaving the place was truly with a sense of happiness after spending the day with a bunch of wonderful people.

Until next time, London.

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