Dec 022017
 

#464

Seen over a span of decades, it is more clear than ever that the El Dorado 15 year old is a seminal rum of our time. “It is a bridge” I wrote back in 2010 in my unscored review, remarking that it straddles the territory between the lower end twelve year old and the 21 year old, and represents a sort of intermediary in value and price and age. The best of all worlds for El Dorado, you might say, and indeed it remains, even twenty five years after its introduction in 1992, one of the most popular rums in the world for those who enjoy the Demerara style.  Any time a blog or website has a series of comments on favourite affordable rums, you can be sure it’ll find its way in there somewhere.  It cannot be easily ignored, even now in the time of independents and cask strength Guyanese monsters aged beyond all reason.

That it succeeds at so effectively colonizing our mental map of good rums bottled at living room strength is a testament to its marketing, but also its overall quality.  DDL themselves tacitly accept this by not only keeping the rum in production for over a quarter century, but chosing specifically that one to issue with a number of fancy finishes (and for a very good rundown of those, look no further than RumShopBoy’s complete analysis, and his separate conclusions, as well as the Quebec Rum’s (French) reviews the only ones available right now). My irascible father, no rum slouch himself, scorns all other rums in the El Dorado range in favour of this one. Many Guyanese exiles wouldn’t have their home bars without it.  What the actual quality is, is open to much more debate, since all rumhounds and rumchums and rabid aficionados are well aware – and never tire of saying – that there is 31-35 g/L of additives in there (either caramel or sugaring, it’s never been definitively established), and by that standard alone it should, like the 21, be consigned to an also-ran.

But it isn’t.  Somehow this rum, a blend of the PM, EHP and VSG stills – which is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominant – keeps on trucking like the energizer bunny, and, love it or hate it, it sells well year in and year out, and has fans from across the spectrum.

Tasting it in tandem with the 12 year old (I’ll do a revisit of this as well soon, though not as part of the Key Rums series) and the 21, it’s clear that it possesses a bit more oomph than it’s younger sibling, in all aspects.  Not only in strength (43% ABV) and age (three years more than the 12), but also in overall quality. It noses quite well – licorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  Orange rind.  Some mustiness and vague salt – basically all the things that the cask strength indies demonstrate, with good complexity and balance thrown in…but somewhat more dampened down too, not as fierce, not as elemental, as what might have been the case.

The various hydrometer lists around the place have shown there’s adulteration going on in the rum, and there is no doubt that when you drink the 15 in tandem with clear, untouched rums, the softening effect of the add-ons are noticeable. What is astounding that even those levels don’t entirely sink the experience. Consider: it’s smooth and possesses depth and heat.  It starts with licorice, and adds oak, some smoke, then slowly the dark fruits come into play – prunes, raisins, black olives, overripe cherries.  There’s some honey and the faint molasses background of coarse brown sugar.  In every way it’s a better rum than the 12 year old, yet one can sense the way the flavours lack snap and crispness, and are dumbed down, softened, flattened out – the sharp peaks and valleys of an independently issued rum are noticeably planed away, and this extends all the way to the finish, which is short and sleepy and kind of sluggish, even boring: sure there’s caramel, molasses, oak, licorice, nuts and raisins again, but didn’t we just have that?  Sure we did. Nothing truly interesting here.

All that aside, I’d have to say that for all its faults, there’s a lot to appreciate about this particular rum.  Much like the 21 it rises above its adulteration and provides the new and not-so-demanding rum drinker with something few rums do – a particular, specific series of tastes that almost, but not quite, edge outside the mainstream.  It gives enough sweet to appeal to those who bend that way, and just enough of a distinctive woody-smoky-leathery profile to attract (and satisfy) those who want something heavier and more musky.  

Now, let me be clear – a superlative demonstration of the blender’s art this is not. It is not one of the fiercely pungent Jamaicans, not a lighter, clearer, crisper agricole, nor is it an easy going Cuban or Panamanian, or a well-assembled Bajan.  I think it’s eclipsed even by the single-still offerings of DDL What it really succeeds at being, is well-nigh unique on its own particular patch.  Its success rests on great appeal to the masses of rum drinkers who aren’t drinking a hundred different rums a year, and who don’t take part in the Great Sugar Debate, who just want something tasty, reasonably well made and reasonably sweet, reasonably complex, that can be either sipped or swilled or mixed up without breaking the bank.  It’s on that level that the El Dorado 15 year old succeeds, remarkably well, even now, and is a tough, well-rounded standard for any other rum of its age and proof and point of origin to beat. Or at least, in the opinions of its adherents.

(82/100)

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rum – not just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum.  Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challenge – Foursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection.  Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo.  It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachet…an affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18.  That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t that – it’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar.  Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time.  Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failings…but also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017 – some seven and a half years after my first encounter with it – showed how both I and the world had changed.  Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remained – the nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate.  I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – and slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through.  And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that way – at this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious.  Problems began with the tasting.  Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness.  That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another.  Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time.  It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come before – frankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes.  To some extent that’s still true – it’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily.  I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experience – it’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness.  Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy.  It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.”

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now.  But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that time – and my tastes, and indeed I myself – moved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer.  It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long.  Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans.  It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old.  It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry.  We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column still – for my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

Mar 102017
 

Photo copyright whisky.dk

Rumaniacs Review #029 | 0429

Issued around 2011, the El Dorado 25 YO received an update from the original 1980 version, with the blend tweaked a little.  The enclosure and bottle remained the same, however, and unfortunately for the modern rumporn brigade of the millenial teens, not enough was done to upgrade the rum to what a current (2017) connoisseur would consider par for the course – unadulterated and cask strength.  Instead, sticking with the tried and true formula which sold so well in the past, it remained 43%, and perhaps we should consider it a favour that the reported 51 g/L sugar of the 1980 version was reduced to 39 g/L here.  I suppose that’s why this one scored incrementally better.  But still, a 25 year old rum made from some of the most famous stills in the world should be a world beater.  And it isn’t. Not even close.

Colour – dark red-amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Marginally better than the 1980 (I tried both side by side).  While still too anemic, it was vaguely crispier and fruitier, nuttier and brinier. Bags of anise and dark dried raisins, jam, molasses and caramel, given some edge with notes of tobacco and oak and some minerally ashy background.  A very good nose.

Palate – Takes the promise and trashes it…worst part of the experience.  This is a €400+ rum, aged 25 years (with all the attendant expectations such stats engender), and a depressingly liqueured might-have-been. If one strains the nose almost out of its original shape, one can sense (rather than actually taste) black cake and honey, vanilla and oak, philly cheese on toast, plus traditional fruits, raisins, anise, prunes, backed up by a nice creme brulee.  And to that extent I liked it. But the sugar…it was just too overbearing – it was like you could never quite come to grips with what was on offer, not because of a low ABV (though this did absolutely nothing to enhance the experience) but because the sweet dampened everything.  It made for a thick, muddy sort of mangrove swamp, instead of the crisp, complex, fast-flowing river that would have been better.

Finish – Too short, to pale, too sweet.  Nothing much going on here.

Thoughts – What the rum provides is still ahead of spiced nonsense like the Kraken or Don Papa, but that’s damning it with faint praise.  Those cost 1/10th of this and have fewer pretensions, raise fewer expectations. Seven years ago I enjoyed the 25 YO El Dorados I tried because I knew less and was more satisfied with 40-43% rums.  That time has now passed and I can see more failure than achievement here. One of my idols proved to have feet of clay, alas.

(81/100)

Other Rumaniacs liked this rum even less than I did.  You can see their evaluations on the official website.

Jan 312017
 

Photo copyright (c) Masters of Malt

Rumaniacs Review #028 | 0428

In the beginning DDL made the El Dorado 1980 25 year old and it was good. The rum pundits looked upon it with favour, tasted and smiled and pronounced it great. For it was greatly aged and unique and well presented and the people were pleased and parted willingly with their hard-earned coin. But then, lo, the world around it moved and changed, and darkness moved upon the face of the cognoscenti, for as the stars turned overhead, other rums were made, better rums, stronger rums, purer rums — and the El Dorado 25 was loath to change with the times.  Verily, it was seen to be a mere mask of greatness without actually being great, having been corrupted and adulterated by the sly serpent of sugar.  And those very persons who heretofore had sung its praises and made sweet sacrifice of good yellow gold at the altar of DDL, now turned their faces from its twisted taste and denounced its falsity.  But many disciples stayed faithful to the heavy  sweetness of the rum, hearkened on to its seductive call, and continued to make obeisance to its false promises.

And it came to pass that the Lone Caner, slinking furtively behind his better-known fellow acolytes of the Order of the Rumaniacs, finally dared also to walk through the abyss, to investigate reports and rumours of this fabled beast.  Armed with only his trusty pen as weapon and notebook for shield, clad in not-quite-righteousness and supposed knowledge gleaned from years of study in matters of The Cane, he went quite into the lair of the legendary rum, to there do battle and come away with the flame of true knowledge.  Was indeed the El Dorado the mythical sugar demon denounced from many an evangelical pulpit?  Or did evil rumour and the jealous despite of the followers of the New Faith unfairly malign a misunderstood denizen of the rumiverse?

And upon reaching the very centre of the bottle’s domain, admired the Caner the golden etching of the flagon. Poured into the glass the Caner did his hard earned sample for which he had sacrificed so much.  Smelled it with overlong snoot, inhaled into much abused lungs, as he drew into himself the olfactory essence of the dram, fearing not, for the Rum Spirit was within him, his alcoholic belches were the stuff of legends unto themselves, and he was far too witless for fear.

Richness there was, immediate, for the scent of the rum spoke to the fair stills whose puissance had been taken by the Makers and through magic and incantations and the tears of virgins, been rendered down into the brown elixir worshipped in times past by the people as a Great Spirit.  Enmore spake commandingly, and Vesailles alongside, and perhaps a whisper of the fabled and elusive Uitvlugt too, all breathing life into the rich nose.  Burnt sugar there was, and nougat, coffee, burning cane fields, and anise, and the sweet aromas of fruit and licorice to make the hearts of children glad.  But lo, what was this?  Even as the richness was sensed, it congealed and became thick and cloying and the dread spectre of sugar surged forth from the darkness to do battle with the rum and the Caner.  Too strong was it for resistance, and yea, the sugar vanquished all that came before it and the nose faltered and died upon the floor.

Struggled did the Caner, to raise his glass and taste the dark brown lass, but alas, bitter disappointment was his only reward.  For by dint of sweet promises and the lure of earthly delights known to only a select few, the fair maiden of the El Dorado proved herself to be a faithless siren luring him to his doom.  Drowned he was in the overwhelming blanket of sugar.  Struggled he did to sense the dim light of vanillas and kiwi fruit and deep molasses, the soft caramels and inviting toffees and coffees and aromatic notes of tobacco.  But nay, the Dark Spirits were merciless, and he failed in his quest utterly; and even the faint glimmers of anise and caramel and burnt sugar turned their faces from him and vanished sadly into the underworld, never to be seen again…leaving him only with remaining teeth decaying and tongue coated with sticky syrup, rending his robes and gnashing his teeth in the anguish of what he had been denied.

Then wroth was the Caner, for he had earlier loved this fair spirit, which had so misled him in his innocence and newbie-ness with shades of illusion now proven false. Raised he then his acerbic pen, readied he his trusty notebook.  Furiously was the pen wielded and the ink stained the page as if he had spilled the rum running through his own veins. And he recorded for posterity his despite.  For in his disappointment and his frustration, these were the weapons he meant to use to record the legend of this mythical rum and to speak truth to those who would continue to sing songs of praise to its purported magnificence.

Therefore, then, gentle reader, take thee heed of the glorious failure of one led to ruin by his misplaced admiration for a false idol, and go not into the abyss thyself. Let his misadventure serve as both warning and instruction, that great age and great price and a fair and sweet appearance are sometimes masks to deceive the unwary.  Tread not lightly into congress with such strumpets lest ye be destroyed in thy turn.

(80/100)

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