Rum's Salvation?

10 Cane Rum, the first new product from the newly created wine and spirits division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, launched last week with the bold pronouncement that it is "the rum of redemption."

An evening of classic cocktails built and served by waiters in white jackets against the backdrop of large black-and-white photos of the sugarcane fields of Trinidad and the men who work them was designed to state the company's proposition that it would bring "luxury, style and innovation" to a category that the Moët Hennessy President Christophe Navarre called "much maligned. This is the way rum is supposed to be."

Rum may not so much need redemption, but its image surely could use a rescue mission. Unlike spirits such as Cognac, Scotch and Bourbon, rum can be made anywhere in the world with scant production regulations. The resulting spirit varies from very good to horrid. 10 Cane takes aim at the stigma by applying its own very specific set of rules.

The product's name is a reference to the bunches of 10 sugarcane stalks that are carried from the field in traditional hand harvesting by machete. It serves also as an allusion to the small-batch aesthetic of the rum, which is made solely in pot stills from sugarcane. Most rums are made from molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. Pot-still distillation is a slower method that requires that rum be made in small batches, rather than continuously in column stills.

The rum is the brainchild of Hennessy master distiller Jean Pineau, who was charged by the company five years ago with its creation. The challenge, he says, was quite satisfying: "I control the quality of Cognacs, but I don't create Cognac. This rum I created."

From the start, Pineau's philosophy was to apply the Cognac makers' standards of high quality in the choice of raw materials to the making of rum. That led to the use of sugarcane as opposed to molasses and also to the decision to use only the first pressing of the cane, which yields 25 percent less juice, but delivers a higher quality product, according to Pineau.

He describes a revelation he had regarding rum making on one of his expeditionary trips to the Caribbean: "I sucked on a cut cane in a field and decided that taste of raw sugar juice was what I ultimately wanted to bring to the spirit." To that end, the choice of the best cane is key to the rum as well as using it when it is as fresh as possible, he says. Pineau even praises the local harvesters of Trinidad, whom he describes as artists with their machetes.

The copper pot stills are alembics that Pineau brought from Cognac. The rum is distilled twice. While pot stills convey more of the flavor of the raw materials in a spirit, they all allow impurities that the distiller must eliminate through his skill. Key to that, says Pineau, is boiling the fermented product at low temperatures as they do in Cognac.

While other producers of superpremium rums would certainly dispute Moët Hennessy's claim that it is the first to bring luxury to the category, there is no denying its contention of innovation. The approach of focusing primarily on the inception, and not the maturation, of the spirit is unique in this price category ($34.99, 750 milliliters, 80 proof). The rum is aged for a comparatively scant six months in French oak. Typically, high-quality rums are aged for years and used Bourbon barrels are the vessels of choice.

The result is a bright rum, clear with the slightest lemon-lime color. The bouquet is particularly floral, with a back aroma of olive oil. The palette certainly corroborates Pineau's intention with a sharp taste of cane sugar, but there are also hints of citrus, vanilla and spice, as well as fusel oils. The finish happens in the roof of the mouth with a residual blast of lemon.

The marketing of 10 Cane is particularly fast-forward for a rum. From the rectangular bottle with a long neck to the traveling 10 Cane Tasting Room, which will tour the country before the rum formally rolls out in June, the presentation is elegant but relentlessly hip. The tasting room will set up in major cities in venues like abandoned factories, introducing the rum to influential consumers, restaurateurs and media. A focus will be the cocktails Mojito, Daiquiri and Cuba Libre, and the company say that the shape of the bottle (easy-to-grasp neck and shelf-friendly shape) was specifically created for bartenders.

We found the Daiquiri to be the best expression, followed closely by the Mojito. The Cuba Libre (Rum and Coke) is quite improved by dialing back the cola quotient.

The makers also tout 10 Cane for drinking neat or on the rocks. However, if your concept of a sipping rum means the mellow charms of a Pampero or a Bacardi 8, this zesty drink will be a departure that requires a different aesthetic approach to its redeeming qualities.

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