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Rum Reviews

Twenty-seven Leaves: Name: Nine Leaves Encrypted II (2 years), Nine Leaves Encrypted III (2 years), Nine Leaves 2016 Velier Japoniani (4 years)



Background: Until recently, the enigmatic Nine Leaves distillery near Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture, Japan, was wholly manned by a single person -- founder Yoshiharu Takeuchi. It distils all its rums from Muscovado simple syrup, via a double-distillation process involving two different pot stills. For the Encrypted series and other limited edition runs, ageing is done in casks of multiple provenance, then blended to the desired profile. In particular, the Japoniani is re-racked into (presumably virgin) acacia wood casks after blending, to age for another two years. These unorthodox production methods culminate in a particular profile that is deviant, to say the least.


Name: Nine Leaves Encrypted II (2 years)

Nose: very fresh and fruity at first, almost like a cognac; fresh sugarcane, apple and grapefruit; grape bubblegum; sultanas; dried figs and black dates; then it becomes syrupy and creamy; Muscovado sugar with honey; cane syrup; molasses; sandalwood accompanied by lavender and vanilla, among other floral notes; the base notes are mostly savoury; rice porridge; green olives; morel consomme; salmiak liquorice; old sherried malt whisky.

Palate: thin mouthfeel; salty, green and spicy; clippings; unripe sugarcane; olive brine; cooking herbs; Christmas cake; salmiak liquorice; grilled rice crackers; salted seaweed; salty tau sar; a hint of ice-cream soda on the back-palate; the rum seems tired and fragile here.

Finish: medium-length; slight bitterness of wood; eucalyptus; dried dates and longan; fresh water chestnut; barley water; gets somewhat creamy; herbal jelly, honey, brown sugar syrup, and salted mixed vegetable juice make up the aftertaste.

Conclusion: a good, easy-drinking rum. More savoury than sweet, with a good balance of flavours. Yes, the notes are somewhat muddled and subdued, and there are indeed many better alternatives at its price point, but I cannot think of any that bears a similar profile. Try-before-you-buy should be imperative.

Score (assuming a normal distribution with mean 50): 80/100


Name: Nine Leaves Encrypted III (2 years)

Nose: more substantial than the Encrypted II; creamy old-school peated and sherried malt whisky, the likes rarely seen nowadays -- the peat and sulphur accentuating the funk in the distillate to spectacular effect, giving rise to notes ranging from cheese and yoghurt to soil and manure; fresh apples; grape-flavoured bubblegum; the yeasty, fermented notes found in a typical flute of Champagne; rice steeped in water; toasted malt; hazelnut mocha; chilli; cumin; curry leaves; soy sauce; rotting vegetables; the base notes are dark, fruity and spicy; eucalyptus; camphor; almond milk; overripe honeydew and cantaloupe; Christmas cake; blueberry jam and chocolate fudge.

Palate: slightly better mouthfeel than the Encrypted II, while being much more expressive; still salty, but with an additional dimension of herbal bitterness; olive brine; American ginseng; angelica root; menthol; thyme and coriander drenched in balsamic vinegar; salmiak liquorice; ginger candy; the mid-palate is funky; motor oil; wet metal coins; petrichor; chalk; fresh, clean soil; the back-palate segues from refreshing to rich and creamy; ginger ale; apple cider; root beer; salty tau sar; maltose; salted peanut butter; toffee; Christmas cake.

Finish: very long; spearmint lozenges; Vick’s Vaporub; more liquorice and olive brine; gherkin; fermented cabbage kimchi and sugar-glazed ikan bilis; sarsaparilla; cola; chocolate-coated macadamia nut; lemon barley, salted seaweed, toasted malt, kvass, grass jelly and Greek yoghurt in tuna brine make up the aftertaste.

Conclusion: a significant upgrade from the Encrypted II. As much as it is obvious that the two Encrypted rums share the same lineage, this one is more savoury, more funky and more characterful. A complex and unique rum, of which weaknesses (in both mouthfeel and structure) are quickly exposed only in comparison to its older Japoniani cousin.

Score (assuming a normal distribution with mean 50): 85/100


Name: Nine Leaves 2016 Velier Japoniani (4 years)

Nose: even more akin to an old, dirty, sherried malt whisky with a ton of rancio; chilli-infused chocolate; toffee; brown sugar syrup; sugarcane, celery and ginger juice; dried dark fruits, especially prunes; salted caramel; maltose; salmiak liquorice; then comes an onslaught of umami; bakkwa; pork floss; dark soy sauce; fatty beef stock that reminds me of the fabulous Matador ramen shop in Tokyo, but this time, brewed with cordyceps and garnished with coriander; kimchi made with preserved anchovies and assorted seafood brine; the base notes are earthy and nutty; peat; smouldering compost; sugar-glazed roasted nuts; freshly roasted coffee beans; dried shiitake and morel mushrooms; black and white truffles; dusty attic with its musty cabinets and rusty pipes; Caroni-esque tar notes.

Palate: big and heavy; equal parts sweet and savoury; chilli-infused chocolate; toffee; salmiak liquorice; Christmas cake; ginger candy; now imagine dipping everything that comes before in light and dark soy sauce; dried prunes and dates; salted caramel; cumin and five-spice; salty tau sar, as usual, this time paired with beh teh sor filling; pork floss; Thai-style grilled pork with Sriracha and peanut sauce; Marmite chicken; the notes are well-compacted, and hardly change in distribution from front- to back-palate -- the consistency is very impressive.

Finish: really long and very much unique; fried plantain and banana; a glass of lightly salted starfruit juice, blended with a teaspoon of Tiger balm; apple cider; roasted nuts and salted seaweed; buttered toast; more cumin and five-spice; curry leaves; briny, savoury seafood- and vegetable-based kimchi; Chinese fish sauce; freshly squeezed lemon on fatty game meat; the aftertaste comprises grass jelly, pickled mustard green, konbu soup with dashi, mixed vegetable juice and olive brine.

Conclusion: holy cow, this is awesome! One of the most savoury spirits I have ever tasted, with its strong umami notes wrapped around a core of sweet, luscious wood. Great structure, flow and a truly idiosyncratic finish. A nitpick would be the less-than-stellar alcohol integration, which marred the coordination of the attack on the palate. A more mature version of this could really push 95 points.

Score (assuming a normal distribution with mean 50): 91/100



Image Courtesy of u/zoorado