The Best New Rum of 2017
I hadn't seen Judah Kuper in at least a year when he walked into the Redwood City store a few months back. He had a huge grin on his face as he approached me and he asked if I had a minute to taste something special (when don't I have a minute to do that?). Many of you are familiar with Judah's Mezcal Vago selections, the result of a surf trip to Mexico that led to a marriage that led Judah into the family business of mezcal distillation. Since he's originally from the Bay Area, he routinely comes back home to visit and check in on accounts like K&L. I assumed he had a special rare agave distillate to share with me, or perhaps an aged family assemblage, but that wasn't the case. "This isn't mezcal," he told me as we entered the tasting bar; "This is agricole rhum."
Because most of us automatically associate the Mexican state of Oaxaca with mezcal, we assume that—like Jalisco—the area must be brimming with agave plants. Oaxaca is a very diverse region, however, and the climate varies with altitude. In the highlands of the Sierra Mazateca mountains, the conditions are perfect for growing coffee, tropical fruits, and sugarcane—much like many of the top rum-producing areas of the world. When Europe discovered that it could derive sugar from beets back in the mid-1700s, it spelled the end of many a sugarcane refinery in the French West Indies, which is why today you mostly find rum distilled from fresh sugarcane juice rather than molasses on the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe. When rum is made by fermenting the fresh juice of what is essentially a talk stalk of grass, those characteristics find their way into the flavor of the final distillate; hence why many people describe agricole rhum as grassy and herbaceous. Like those islands, Oaxaca was once part of a more robust Mexican sugarcane trade, but today much of that cane is used to make panela or piloncillo, or distilled to make the Oaxacan version of agricole called aguardiente de caña.
If you've tasted through the Mezcal Vago line-up, then you're probably aware that the distillates come from a few different producers. It was while hunting for new blood that Judah came across Jose Luis Carrera and his pine fermentation vats that were fermenting various Oaxacan cane varietals like típica, dura, negra, and criollo. Rather than repeat all the fascinating details that make up Carrera's thirty-five year history of rum production, I'll send you over to the official Paranubes webpage for more photos, specs, and pure romanticism.
What I will tell you is that the Paranubes Oaxacan aguardiente de caña is one of, if not the, best agricole rhums I've ever tasted and it beautifully balances a smooth and fruity character with the grassiness and the intense cane flavor of something like Neisson. What it removes is the funk, the earth, and the sometimes bitter notes that send some people running for the hills. The aromatics are absolutely stunning—there is a pure and unflinching note of raw cane that absolutely explodes from the bottle. At 54%, the rum is no slouch. But it's clearly distilled with a master hand because it's incredibly polished despite all that intensity. I could drink this straight out of the bottle, neat in a glass, on the rocks, in a cocktail, or simply with soda. It's complex enough to ponder and enjoy as a solo act, but affordable enough at $39.99 a liter to throw into a mixed drink.
Judah was not kidding. This is indeed something very, very special and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. In a moment when rum fans are pushing for a real renaissance, the Paranubes has arrived to capture some of that momentum. While many of us are looking to Jamaica, Barbados, and Guyana for real classic cane character, it turns out that Oaxaca might be at the forefront of rum's resurgence. The Paranubes has a sweet sugar cane character that should please casual rum fans, but again a complexity and intensity of flavor that will stun the geekiest of rum geeks. My colleague Ryan Woodhouse, not usually the biggest agricole fan, was blown away. He was draining his glass to savor every drop. That's when I really knew this was going to be a big deal.
I'm going to be nosing my bottle all day, sipping it all weekend, and coming back for another Monday morning. This is one of the most exciting new spirits I've tasted in 2017 and I think once the word gets out, rum fans are going to seriously flip out. I can't get enough of it—it's that good.