Brand: Holmes Cay, Single Cask Rum series
Origin: Mhoba, Malelane, South Africa
Age: 4 years
Finish: South African Whisky
When spirits enthusiasts think about rum-distilling countries, they likely focus on the big players in the Caribbean, not Africa. That's why Mhoba, a distillery located in the eastern reaches of South Africa, has taken the world by storm in recent months. Most recently, the distillery enjoyed a successful Habitation Velier release, and not long before, this Holmes Cay release.
Their sugarcane juice-based distillate has proven Mhoba to be a fine distiller of rich, flavorful, and frankly, beautiful rum. Although primarily available only in South Africa, items from their range of self-bottled products have reached Europe via the likes of Rhum Attitude, The Whisky Exchange, and other retailers. This Holmes Cay bottling (my bottle is from cask no. 48) is the first Mhoba release for the US market, initially offered exclusively through the Florida Rum Society, which is where I purchased my bottle.
While I enjoy US-based independent bottler Holmes Cay's understated, professional labeling and presentation, I hope that sooner than later the rest of the world will be able to enjoy the beautifully-crafted glass packaging that Mhoba uses in their own bottling. Boxy and rustic, their bottles are adorned with rough illustrations pertaining to each expression, while the more premium bottles swap simple adhesive labels for more attractive carved and burnt wood placards.
But enough about glassware, let's get into the juice…
A foxy orange-gold color, lightly viscous, slightly oily, medium clarity
Vanilla, sugarcane, touch of white wine, browned butter, permanent marker, overproof tinge, grilled pineapple, brine, caramelized sugar from a crème brulée, apricot jam
Vanilla, browned butter, caramelized sugar, vinegary brine on the front; buttered popcorn, sea salt/brine on the mid-palate; permanent marker, aged sugarcane juice on the back
Long, saturated, and heavy on the alcohol burn; savory, sweet, tropical fruits (papaya, mango, grilled pineapple)
Wow. That's the first word that comes to my mind when I take a sip, especially if I haven't had a dram of this for a while. This has all the complexity one would expect from a sugarcane juice-based, 100% Pot still rum, and then some. The South African Whisky aging undoubtedly imparts some of this complexity, and likely the beautiful coloring.
I did a brief search on South African whisky to see what the regulations are relative to bourbon and Scotch whisky.
What I was able to find was the purported regulations– last amended in 2018– for different "liquor products", including whisky, brandy, gin, and… rum!
Turns out, South African whisky has some lenient regulations, only stipulating they "be matured for at least three years in wooden casks with a capacity of not more than 700 litres". Curiously, no type of wood or condition is specified, leading to whiskies being matured in a variety of different casks.
The nose reminds me of my Transcontinental Rum Line Fiji 2014 bottle: giving off permanent marker, carmelized sugar, and tropical fruit aromas, while the brine and grilled pineapple remind me of Paranubes.
The palate is equally as memorable, echoing the nose but still offering something special. It has a full body upon reaching the middle palate, which lends to a longer, saturated finish.
While this is only 4 years old, it delivers a remarkable amount of complexity without being too untamed. If rhum agricole is any indication, this is not always an easy feat to accomplish, especially at 118 proof.
If you can swing the price (I snagged my bottle for ~$115), I highly recommend this wonderful rum. It's a perfect example of the range of rum– especially sugarcane-based rum, which is often unfairly pigeon-holed into rhum agricole territory. I certainly look forward to sipping and reviewing more Mhoba and African rum in the future.