Two Bielle Monovarietals, plus an ABX Test

Slightly different format for the reviews today. I’m tasting two monovarietal rums from Bielle, a fantastic distillery on Marie-Galante I’ve reviewed several times before. Both were column distilled from fresh cane juice (the name is the variety of cane) and bottled without barrel aging at 59%. I’ll offer some brief impressions of each, then move to a little experiment.

Rhum Bielle Canne Genou Cassé

The first things I pick up on the nose are those “hiking in the woods” aromas I’ve come to expect from Bielle: tree leaves and branches, rainfall, and mud. Then there’s chalk, sesame, menthol, peppermint puffs, mixed peppercorns, organic laundry detergent, and grapefruit soda.

My notes for the palate are about the same, though it accentuates the peppermint puff note and adds in some milk chocolate, radish, and squash. Surprisingly, it doesn’t strike me as having a ton of olive flavor. Another shining example of Bielle’s quality and consistency. (8/10)

Rhum Bielle Canne Grise

The nose is quite similar to that of the Genou Cassé, but maybe a little more grungy. The leaves are back, but they’ve been in the compost for a few weeks. There’s also dirt, mud, gravel, chalk, raw flour, squash, mixed peppercorns, and sesame.

On the palate, the raw flour has turned into a roux. Green bell pepper, grapefruit, and blood orange have been added too. The peppermint puff note makes a reappearance, but it’s more subtle than with the Genou Cassé.

These are both excellent, but I have a hard time recommending them. They’re pretty much right on par with the 59º blanc from their core lineup, which costs significantly less and comes in a bottle twice as big. Unless you have the desire and ability to discern the subtle nuances that set these apart, I say just stick to the regular 59º. As you’ll see below, I lack the latter of those two prerequisites. (8/10)

ABX Test

You want to humble yourself as a spirits aficionado? Do mystery samples. You want to utterly humiliate yourself? Do an ABX test.

An ABX test is a method of determining whether or not a subject can tell the difference between two samples. I learned about it in my audio class in college, where we did ABX tests to determine if we could tell the difference between microphone frequency responses or audio compression formats.

With the help of my very patient wife, I did an ABX test with these two Bielles. I first taste sample A, which I know is Canne Genou Cassé. I then taste sample B, which I know is Canne Grise. Then, I taste ten iterations of X*, which is either A or B, but I don’t know which.

My job is to identify whether each X sample is A or B. If I guess correctly 100% of the time, that means I can tell the difference perfectly. A score of 0% also means I can tell the difference perfectly, it just means I have them reversed (I guess B every time it’s A and vice versa).

You wanna know how I scored on the Bielle monovarietal ABX test? 50%. This essentially shows that I am completely unable to tell the difference between Canne Genou Cassé and Canne Grise. I would have performed about as well if I had done a coin toss for each guess.

Now, it isn’t normal to taste spirits with a blindfold on, and having an awareness of what you’re drinking fundamentally alters your experience of drinking it. Regardless, this has been an enlightening and humbling experiment. The differences I believed were obvious in an unblinded tasting were virtually undetectable during the ABX test. Maybe a more discerning palate could have gotten a better score, but I clearly have some work to do.

If you think you can reliably tell the difference between two similar spirits, try an ABX test with them and share your results.

*Don’t worry, it wasn’t ten full glasses. I was blindfolded, there were only two glasses, and my wife would hand me the glass that corresponded to a list of randomized X samples.