Origin: Mhoba, Malelane, South Africa
Age: 4 years
Finish: ex-South African Whisky
For this review, we return to my box of samples, with another pass at a Bira! bottling. The Canadian independent bottler was recently discussed in a Sample September post, which was a sibling release of the rum we're reviewing today.
Founder Karl Mudzamba and the rest of his Bira! team have a second bottling of Mhoba rum, this time fully aged in a South African whisky cask, just like my Holmes Cay Mhoba bottle.
Like other Mhoba rums, the Bira! South African Whisky finish was distilled from a base of sugarcane juice through Mhoba's pot still, most likely in late 2016/early 2017. The rum was aged for 4 years exclusively in South African whisky casks, dumped in 2021, and bottled in 2022 without additives at a strength of 56% ABV.
Given that these details are almost identical to the Holmes Cay Mhoba, I expect to really enjoy this rum. Thanks to Andrew Hinton for providing me with this sample!
Pale straw, high clarity, medium-low viscosity
Olive brine, buttered popcorn, vanilla, barley, gherkin pickles, permanent marker
Browned butter, vanilla, popcorn, caramelized sugar, sea salt, star anise
Medium, vegetal, briney; salty brine, burnt butter, hints of oak, black pepper
This Bira! expression is delightful, and truly is reminiscent of the HC Mhoba 2017 that I loved so much; likely because of the shared South African whisky cask finish.
The color of the South African Whisky finished rum is a pale straw-yellow, and has high clarity and medium-low viscosity. It's a bit lighter than the 4 year-aged HC release, and only slightly lighter than the Bourbon cask Bira! release.
Notes of olive brine, buttered popcorn, vanilla, barley, gherkin pickles, and permanent marker come through on the nose. It's again wonderfully vegetal, sweet, and slightly savory; one of the most unique noses of any rum I've had before. Every time I get a whiff of a Mhoba rum, I rekindle my desire to try some of their core releases (Mhoba if you're listening: you've got at least one buyer lined up if you start exporting to the US!).
The palate offers notes of browned butter, vanilla, popcorn, caramelized sugar, sea salt, and a bit of star anise. The browned butter is almost burned, and pairs well with the popcorn and caramelized sugar notes, while some sweet vanilla pokes out between waves of slight bitterness and mineral sea salt; some star anise notes come through on the rear palate. Again, incredibly unique and undeniably delicious.
The finish is medium-length, vegetal, and briney; slightly bitter salty brine, burnt butter, and spicy black pepper notes come through, with some hints of oak throughout. This pairs up very well with the nose and palate, offering some notes that persist through the rest of the experience, before mellowing out gracefully.
Mhoba, and Bira!, does it again; this South African whisky cask rum is delicious, unique, and a true multi-sensory experience. It highlights all the things that make Mhoba special, and shows that Mhoba's craft is consistent across batches, since this is so similar in construction and experience to the Holmes Cay release. If I had to criticize this release, it would be that it is too similar to the Holmes Cay Mhoba. This is of course far from a negative, and in fact allows those who don't have access to the Holmes Cay bottling, or Mhoba's core lineup, to obtain some of this special rum.