I was recently reminded I’d not posted about Penny Blue XO Batch #0004 which was released last July when I received notice of the Single Cask that’s just been released! More about the Single Cask in the next article, but for now it’s worth catching up on batch 4 and sharing some of the very interesting Q&A that came out of the official launch at Milroy’s.
Press Release: Named after the world’s rarest stamp, Penny Blue is distilled at Medine, the oldest operational distillery on Mauritius, dating back to 1926. The estate is situated a few metres from the sea on the west of the island, near Bambou. Doug McIvor, Spirits Manager from Berry Bros. & Rudd and Jean-Francois Koenig, Master Distiller at Medine Distillery, have once again carefully handpicked a number of casks, choosing a few particular types at the peak of their maturity. The single estate limited edition XO 4 Mauritian rum is a vatting comprising rum matured in bourbon and whisky casks. The oldest rum in this batch is 11 years old and the youngest 4 years old.
Penny Blue is a small batch vatted rum, it is natural in colour and un-chill-filtered. All the production happens on the one single estate: from growing the sugar cane to distillation, maturation and bottling. There is no artificial sweetening involved in the process. Doug McIvor explains; “The key to the success of the Penny Blue series is retaining a level of continuity in each release, yet ensuring each batch is distinct in character. Batch four is wonderfully rich and opulent, with high levels of complexity which have become associated with each of the Penny Blue releases.”
Penny Blue Tasting Notes:
Appearance: Amber with golden highlights.
Nose: Tropical fruits, hints of eucalyptus and wood spice, citrus and vanilla.
Palate: Nicely textured and succulent with some balancing wood spice dryness to the finish.
43.3% ABV / 70cl Bottle.
Batch three was only available in Mauritius, whereas the fourth batch will be available internationally excluding the USA from the 1st July 2015. Batch four is again a limited release with only 10,000 bottles available with the recommended retail price at £41.95/€52.95.
What makes your rum different from other styles of rum?
Some people have described the Penny Blue range as the whisky drinker's rum, as it has a drier finish which gives a more grown-up and delicately complex character. Many other producers add a dosage of sugar to sweeten their rums but we believe in keeping the natural balance. Our rums contain a range of different ages. In the Penny Blue XO 1-4 range, the youngest component is 4 years old and the oldest 10 or 11 years old. The collection is recognised for its tropical fruit notes and subtle wood spice flavours.
What is special about the Medine Distillery?
Nestled for almost a century between the mountains and the azure sea, the Medine Distillery is the home of The Penny Blue Rum Collection. Originating in 1926, it is the oldest existing Mauritian distillery. Medine owns 3,300 ha of sugarcane field which benefits from the volcanic soil and is moreover perfectly situated in the sunniest part of the island and nestled between the azure sea and towering mountains with low levels of rainfall. This forms optimum conditions to produce the island’s juiciest sugar canes as the basis for superior quality rum. Medine produces 300,000 tonnes sugarcane per annum although only a tiny percentage of this goes into producing Penny Blue.
The Medine Distillery is overseen by the Master Distiller, Jean-Francois Koenig, with more than 20 years’ experience in rum distillation.
What does it mean that Penny Blue is Single Estate?
Growing its own sugar cane and distilling, maturing and bottling at the same estate, the Penny Blue Rum Collection can proudly be claimed “Single Estate” and even “Chateau bottled”.
What makes Mauritius special in rum production?
As well as being known as an idyllic, tropical paradise in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is similarly famous for producing some of the world’s best sugar and for distilling exquisite rum. Sugarcanes were first introduced to the island when the Dutch colonised it in 1638. Therefore, rum was produced in the Indian Ocean well before it was taken to the Caribbean.
The sugarcane was at that time grown exclusively to produce sugar and the molasses were used for the distillation of a spirit called arak or rum. For hundreds of years, only molasses were used for the production of white rums. Today, sugarcane is still an integral part of the Mauritian landscape and the production of rum is more common throughout the island where we have seen the creation of some world class matured rums.
Is there a Mauritian rum “terroir” and how is it different from what is produced in the Caribbean?
Mauritians rums tend to be dryer, less syrupy than most Caribbean rums. For the Penny Blue Rum Collection our rum is unsweetened, un-chill-filtered and natural in colour, thus we have a 100% natural rum. Moreover, because of the French influence in Mauritius, aged rums tend to be matured in ex-cognac casks. They are therefore soft, spicy with often beautiful eucalyptus notes. Penny Blue moreover uses other cask types in order to enhance the complexity.
How has the process of maturation been undertaken?
As part of the heritage from Mauritius mainly light rums are consumed locally. However, given a change in the law a few years ago the Master Distiller, Jean-Francois Koenig, started to age rums and changed to a heavier style of rum. He also began distilling it slower and at a lower temperature. In this experimentation process, different styles were explored and ex-barrels from cognac, bourbon and whisky were used for maturation. This resulted in some outstanding products with specific differences between each barrel. Each cask is handpicked at the peak of maturity by Jean-Francois Koenig and Doug McIvor and either blended or sold as outstanding single casks.
What is your approach to wood management at the distillery and how does the Mauritian climate affect it?
For Penny Blue we use different types of wood: French oak casks previously used to age Cognac and American oak from ex-Bourbon and ex-Scotch whisky casks. The Mauritian climate is tropical maritime throughout the year with the average temperature being 25 degrees. Given the hot climate, one of the challenges is the “angel share” which is approximately of 6-8% compound loss per year and it means that our rum matures four times quicker than Scotch whisky. Therefore, a 10-year-old Mauritian Rum is the equivalent of a 40-year-old Scotch whisky. Wood management is, therefore, crucial.
How is it distilled?
A classic 4 column continuous still is used as this helps control the flavour intensity during the entire process and creates a better efficiency and quality control. This follows 4 steps:
Firstly, fermented molasses at 8% is distilled in the wash column to separate the alcohol and the volatile compounds. The residue or slops are reused on the sugarcane fields as a renewable fertiliser. Next, in the concentrator, the rum will reach 94% ABV. In the third column, the purifier, water is added to remove undesired flavour compounds (heads and tails). The rectifier is the last distillation step where the water is removed and the rum is concentrated to its final strength of 95% ABV.
The rum is reduced to 60% ABV before being filled into cask for maturing.
Rum Databank: Penny Blue XO Batch #0004
Country of Origin: Mauritius