Aug 132020
 

There’s a peculiar light yellow lustre to the Santiago de Cuba rum somewhat euphemistically called the Carta Blanca (“White Card”), which is a result, one must assume, of deliberately incomplete filtration. The rum is aged three years in oak casks, so some colour is inevitable, but in anonymous white barroom mixers, that’s usually eliminated by the charcoal used: so whatever colour remains can’t be an accident. It’s likely, in this case, that the makers figured since it was issued at a trembly-kneed sort of please-don’t-hurt-me sub-proof strength, it might be better to leave something behind in case people forgot it was supposed to be a rum and not a vodka.

That worked, I suppose…up to a point.  The problem is that a 38% proof point simply does not permit sufficient serious aromas to be discerned easily – you really got to work at it (which I argue is hardly the point for a rum like this one).  

When nosing it, I certainly got the light sort of profile it promised: some negligible white fruits, in bed with a thinly sharp and quite herbal background; it smelled a bit grassy, almost agricole-like, surprising for a Spanish-style ron from Cuba.  And when I took my time with it and let it stand for a bit, I sensed almonds, crushed walnuts, coconut shavings, papaya, sweet watermelon and even a touch of brine. (Note: adding water did absolutely nothing for the experience beyond diluting it to the point of uselessness).

As for the taste when sipped, “uninspiring” might be the kindest word to apply. It’s so light as to be nonexistent, and just seemed so…timid. Watery and weak, shivering on the palate with a sort of tremulous nervousness, flitting here and there as if ready to flee at a moment’s notice, barely brushing the taste buds before anxiously darting back out of reach and out of range. I suppose, if you pay attention, you can detect some interesting notes: a sort of minerally base, a touch of mint. Citrus – like lemon grass – cardamom and cumin, and even some ginnip and sour cream.  It’s just too faint and insipid to enthuse, and closes the show off with a final touch of citrus peel and lemon meringue pie, a bit of very delicate florals and maybe a bit of pear juice.  Beyond that, not much going on. One could fall asleep over it with no issues, and miss nothing.

Obviously such tasting notes as I describe here are worlds removed from the forceful aspects of all those brutal falling-anvil fullproofs many fellow boozehounds clearly enjoy more.  When faced with this kind of rum my default position as a reviewer is to try and be tolerant, and ask who it was made for, what would such people say about it, can redemption be found in others’ tastes? After all, I have been told on many occasions that other parts of the world prefer other rums – softer, lighter, weaker, subtler, easier…made for mixes, not chuggers or shot glasses.

Completely agree, but I suspect that no-one other than a bartender or a cocktail guru would do much with the Carta Blanca. It has all the personality of a sheet of paper, and would disappear in a mix, leaving no trace of itself behind, drowned out by anything stronger than water. It does the world of rum no favours, trumpets no country and no profile worthy of merit, and after a sip or a gulp can be forgotten about as easily as remembering which cocktail it was just mixed in. In short, it has a vapid existence unmolested by the inconvenience of character.

(#752)(72/100)

Jul 142019
 

It’s been some time since a current production Cuban rum not made by a third party crossed my path.  Among those was the Santiago de Cuba 12 YO, which, at the time, I enjoyed a lot, and made me anxious to see how older versions from the Cuba Rum Corporation’s stable would work out.  So when the 25 YO became available, you’d better believe I snapped it up, and ran it past a bunch of other Latin rums: a Don Q, two of the Diplomatico “Distillery Collection” rums, a Zafra 21 and just because I could, a Kirk & Sweeney 18 YO.

The Cuba Rum Corporation is the state owned organization located in the southern town of Santiago de Cuba, and is the oldest factory in the country, being established in 1862 by the Bacardi family who were expropriated after the Cuban Revolution in 1960. The CRC kept up the tradition of making light column-still Cuban rum and nowadays make the Ron Caney, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba lines, the last of which consists of an underproof blanca and sub-5YO anejo, and 40% 12 YO, 20 YO and this 25 YO. The 25 YO is their halo product, introduced in 2005 in honour of the 490th anniversary of the city of Santiago de Cuba’s founding and is lavish bottle and box presentation undescores the point (if the price doesn’t already do that).

Could a rum tropically aged for that long be anything but a success? Certainly the comments on the crowd-sourced Rum Ratings site (all thirteen of them, ten of which rated it 9 or 10 points out of ten) suggest that it is nothing short of spectacular. 

The nose was certainly good – it smelled richly of leather, mint, creme brulee, caramel, raisins, cherries, and vanilla.  The aromas were soft, yet with something of an edge to them as well, a bit of oak and tar, some citrus peel and lemon juice (just a little), plus a whiff of charcoal and smoke that was not displeasing. Even at 40% (and I wish it was more) it was enormously satisfying, if unavoidably light.  Good thing I tried it early in the session – had it come after a bunch of cask strength hooligans, I might have passed it by with indifference and without further comment.

The challenge came as it was tasted, because this is where standard strength 40% ABV usually falls flat and betrays itself as it disappears into a wispy nothingness, but no, somehow the 25 year old got up and kept running, in spite of that light profile.  The mouthfeel was silky, quite smooth and easy, tasting of cinnamon, aromatic tobacco, a bit of coffee. Then came citrus, nuts, some very faint fruits – raisins again, ripe red grapes, kiwi fruits, sapodilla, yellow mangoes – that was impressive, sure, it’s just that one had to reach and strain and really pay attention to tease out those notes…which may be defeating the purpose of a leisurely dram sipped as the sun goes down somewhere tropical.  Unsurprisingly the finish failed (for me at any rate – your mileage may, of course, vary): it puffed some leather and light fruits and cherries, added a hint of cocoa and vanilla, and then it was over.

The Santiago de Cuba brand was supposedly Castro’s favourite, which may be why the Isla del Tesoro presentation quality rum retails for a cool £475 on the Whisky Exchange and this one retails for around £300 or so.  Personally I find it a rum that needs strengthening. The tastes and smells are great – the nose, as noted, was really quite outstanding – the balance nicely handled, with sweet and tart and acidity and muskiness in a delicate harmony, and that they did it without any adulteration goes without saying. It would, six years ago, have scored as good or better than the 12 year old (86 points, to save you looking). 

But these days I can’t quite endorse it as enthusiastically as before even if it is a quarter of a century old, and so must give it the score I do…but with the usual caveat: if you love Cubans and prefer softer, lighter, standard proofed rums, then add five points to my score to see where it should rank for you.  Even if you don’t, rest assured that this is one of the better Cuban rums out there, tasty, languorous, complex, well-balanced….and too light.  It’s undone – and only in the eyes of this one reviewer – by being made for the palates of yesteryear, instead of beefing itself up (even incrementally) to something more for those who, like me, prefer something more forceful and distinct.

(#641)(82/100)


Other notes

Pierre-Olivier Coté’s informative 2015 review on Quebec Rum noted the outturn as 8,000 botles.  One wonders whether this is a one-off, or an annual release level.

Apr 252013
 

D7K_1288

Very few discordant notes in this excellent 12 year old…just perhaps a little less intensity than I’m after, maybe a shade less complexity.

(#157. 86/100)

 ***

The Cuba Rum Corporation’s 12 year old rum is a very well put together product that reaffirms my belief that if the US embargo is even lifted in part, rums should be high on the list of products allowed into the country just so those poor souls south of 49 can see what they’ve been missing. This rum is proof that Cuba remains high on the list of nations making some of the best rums out there.

Other bottles in the Santiago line made by the CRC are the Anejo, the 11 year old, 20 year old and 25 year old, and while it is dangerous to imply on the basis of a single tasting how others in the series turns out, all I can say is that after sampling this one (provided by my friend Antonio after he returned from the Island, in a rum tasting session at my house that was quite epic), I’m really looking forward to checking out all the others. Because this rum is very good indeed, even if it could (in my sole opinion) be made a shade stronger than the 40% at which it stands.

Lighter than some of the Demeraras I’ve been trying recently, but more assertive than the softer Bajan and Panamanians, the 12 year old had a lovely mahogany colour with ruby hints, which swirled thickly in my glass, releasing a very pleasant, pungent nose of muted orange peel, cherries and sweet, light flowers. These initial scents blossomed into a rich and fruity aroma that presented notes of cherries, vanilla, coconut and (if you can believe it) cola. In its own way, it released both perfumed and deeper caramel scents, with hardly any smoke or tannins at all.

D7K_1290

As for the arrival, that was amazing. Smooth and yet heated, warm and inviting on the palate. Based just on the colour, I would have expected it to be thicker and heavier to the taste, yet it was actually a bit light and dancing as all get out, as if I had seen Jack Black turn into Gwynneth Paltrow. Some smoke, nuts, caramel, papaya and brown sugar were the various commingling notes I was tasting…but what I want to emphasize is something of the overall balance and harmony these flavours achieved, the way they merged into a mouthfeel that was, quite simply, luscious. A medium long exit left behind fond memories of caramel, ripe yellow fruits and a faint perfumed note of citrus that faded only reluctantly.

This relatively dark coloured, light tasting rum could probably be bettered, but for the life of me I don’t see how unless it is to torque it up a shade. The boys who make the Santiago line – I read that the rum is made in the old Bacardi facilities which the family left behind after the Cuban Revolution – have taken the light rum methodology pioneered by the old maestros and created something quite spectacular here: its Gold Medal at the 2012 Berlin RumFest was probably no accident. It succeeds at many levels – nose, taste, mouthfeel, finish – and though perhaps my tastes these days run to somewhat stronger fare, I can’t argue with the results contained in this bottle.

D7K_1285

I came across a reference online that the Santiago rum (no further detail) was Castro’s favourite. That may be purely anecdotal, and I have lots of great hooch in my own stocks – but I can state with some assurance that if you have a shelf containing your own favourite sipping rums, this one can, without embarrassment or undue favour, be displayed proudly among all the others residing there.

 

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