Origin: Mhoba, Malelane, South Africa
Age: 4 years
Unless you're from the Great White North– or have a far-reaching rum network, you likely have never heard of Bira! before. Bira! is an independent bottler located in Canada, founded by Karl Mudzamba, who named his company after a festive, all-night ritual of the Shona people.
The first Bira! release was a 12 year old Fiji rum, which was then followed up by 2 bottlings of South African rum: one with a green label that was aged in ex-Bourbon casks, and the other with a yellow label that was aged in ex-South African Whisky casks.
Of the South African releases, we are looking at the former today; Bira! South Africa 4 year is a sugarcane-based rum made by Mhoba, who previously had a Holmes Cay release that we reviewed.
This 4 year old rum was distilled in Mhoba's pot stills in late 2016-early 2017, aged in casks that previously held Bourbon, dumped in 2021, and bottled in early 2022, without additives, at 56% ABV.
I'm excited to dive into this rum, given how much I loved the Holmes Cay 4 year old Mhoba. Thanks to Andrew Hinton for providing me this sample!
Gold, high clarity, low viscosity
Green olive brine, browned butter, caramelized sugar, vanilla, kimchi
Salty brine, vanilla, browned butter, caramelized sugar, buttered popcorn
Medium-short length, warming, slightly tannic; subtle caramelized sugar, oak, bitter cough medicine
Unlike the Holmes Cay Mhoba release, this Bira! South Africa rum suffers a bit in its composition, complexity, and finish. This is not being directly compared to Holmes Cay's Mhoba, but since the availability is so limited, naturally I'll be looking at the differences between these bottlings for some perspective.
The rum itself is a nice golden color, with high clarity and low viscosity.
On the nose, Bira! South Africa offers green olive brine, browned butter, carmelized sugar, vanilla, and kimchi notes. Lots of similarities with the Holmes Cay release, which tells me that Mhoba has dialed in their signature. An odd note of fermented vegetables shows up in the form of kimchi.
The palate offers notes of salty brine, vanilla, browned butter, caramelized sugar, and buttered popcorn. Again, some similarities connect this and the Holmes Cay, but unfortunately the complexity is pretty non-existant in this bottling. The brine is there and a bit more pronounced, but all the other notes arrive and leave like lighting a match: very present and noticeable for a brief moment, before disappearing.
The finish is medium-short, and is warming and slightly tannic. Some subtle notes of caramelized sugar, oak, and bitter cough medicine show up. The palate really is gone in a flash, and the finish is almost completely linear, not offering much in the way of complexity or depth at all.
This is not a bad rum, just a bit unpolished and likely wouldn't stand up to other Mhoba offerings that may be out there. I wish there was a bit more complexity in this bottling, since I know that's possible based on my pervious Mhoba experience. If this is available to you, I would still say this is a great introduction to South African rum.