Mar 272013



A more rambunctious, slightly less cultured younger brother of the same company’s 21 year old rum –  complex, hearty, smooth and a full-out tonsil-pleaser.

(#113.  83/100)


If the Rum Nation Panama 18 year old had been released on its own without further statement, as it first was in 2000 (I got the 2010 release), it would have been a success by any yardstick, and indeed I make no bones about this – it’s damned good.  It does not fail next to its older sibling…it’s simply a shade different.  And though the 21 year old is better (yes it is), this should not diminish the achievement of Rum Nation in making the 18 at all.

As if in counterpoint to the faux-silver-lined box of the 21, the 18 comes in a standard cardboard enclosure with a peephole, much like a three dimensional equivalent of the buff envelope containing your gas bill, though undoubtedly more pleasant to receive. The bottle was a straightforward barroom style one, with a plastic cork saying nothing in a particular.  Presentation, therefore, was kept minimal, which, for an eighteen year old product, I found surprising – any other maker would have trotted out the dancing girls and razamatazz, but perhaps Fabio felt he had more and even better stuff in the pipeline, and so took even this excellent product and kept things stripped-down.

And that might make you believe it’s the red haired bastard stepchild, perhaps lacking something (maybe legitimacy?). Nope, no such thing. Red gold in the glass, those faint sulphury notes that seem to be the defining characteristic of Rum Nation’s products I’ve tried wafted up at me, slightly heated, and pungent, mixed in with mellow notes of soft sweet peaches and just a mischievously sharp hint of oaky zest to tweak your schnozz. A shade more, oh…assertive. What a nice nose you have granny.

The arrival of the medium bodied rum came with a tantaraa of trumpets: dark chocolate, tobacco, well-cured leather. It was more tart than the 21, a shade briny, with a soft hint of the ocean, and as dry as a Brit expat’s sense of humour.  An odd combination, and in no way offensive.  Perhaps a better word would be distinctive.  The oaky background of the pungent nose remained, and united with the aforementioned tastes that were tempered with honey and licorice notes. I loved this rum at first taste nearly a year ago, and still think it’s quite the bees knees. Maybe it was because it was aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks – I’ve noticed that such multiple cask ageings tend to impart slightly more complex notes (not good in every case, but here, yes).

Finish was softly heated and gently assertive, like a father’s hug, bringing in the last fumes of aromatic leather and dark chocolate.  I believed then as I do now, that the 21’s finish is better, but let no-one kid you about the 18 – it’s very very good, and since it costs around a third less than that admirable product, you could do worse than splurge on it.  Fortunately, neither is so expensive that you have to pawn your kidneys to get one.

Varela in Panama makes this rum for Rum Nation, and here I should make a couple of notes for those who are interested in such things: 1. something like six to eight thousand bottles are made annually, and there’s a run for each year, noted on the bottle 2. Caramel is added at the beginning of the ageing process to the barrels, said caramel made fresh on site, from the same sugar cane as the rum itself and at the same time (does this qualify as an additive? seems a bit of a gray area) 3. All ageing is done in Panama; and 4. This was one of Rum Nation’s first products (the company was formed in 1999 and the first issue of this rum was in 2000), and I think that on the basis of its innovation and quality, it helped establish the company as one to watch.

So here is a rum that in the opinion of this writer, will one day be seen as rightfully taking its place with El Dorado, Juan Santos, Mount Gay, Appleton and others. Rum Nation’s Panama 18 is a sunshine rum that perpetrates a brilliant, splendid and useful shell game on us as drinkers: it is a not quite ultra-premium rum that’s an absolute riot to drink.  Mix it if you want to, but come on, why would you? When that kind of Aphrodite-like body beckons to you alone, well my friends, it might almost be a sin not to dance.





Mar 262013


First posted 18th December 2011 on Liquorature.

(#089. 79.5/100)

Much as I like the Grandpa 12 rum, I must concede that somehow, by a subtle mismatch of flavour, nose, body, complexity and overall profile, this otherwise excellent rum just fails to attain greatness.  That’s not to say this is not a really good product, because it is – and at a price most of us can afford, you wouldn’t go wrong adding it to your shelf. The middle tiers, that is.


One problem with liking a rum is that the rum as a rule doesn’t really like you back. In fact, the converse is true: the more you indulge your appreciation for one, the more you suffer for that presumption (usually with a Godzilla-sized headache) – no rum will ever crawl into your bed, buy you that Porsche you wanted, remember your birthday, or care that you have an anniversary.

A second issue is that rums you might deem worthy of your love cost cold hard cash, and a lot of it (much like real spouses do). Now this is not a problem for professional spirits reviewers who obtain samples from all and sundry, or for a Google founder who might want a new 911 GT3 – it is, on the other hand, a rather bigger deal if you are a mere working joe like yours truly, on a limited budget. Perhaps the solution is to tread lightly: enjoy what you can for what it is, and don’t go too far off the reservation in fawning over any one product. Keep dreamin’ of the good stuff and enjoy the diamonds in the mud you can occasionally uncover.

Like this one from Panama – the Abuelo 12 year old, which was one third of the rum selection in October 2011 for what is traditionally Liquorature’s sole rum-only evening: mine. I’ve made it a practice to know nothing about any of the three rums I always offer to my guests so that their discovery is also mine. Ron Abuelo was definitely the pick of the evening on that score not because it was exceptional per se, but more because it was overall an utterly all-round above-average product

Aside from the almost impossible to get Centuria, this is the oldest rum in the stable of Varela Hermanos SA of Panama, who have been in business of rums since 1908 when Don José Varela Blanco went operational with the first sugar mill in the then recently formed Republic of Panama. In 1935 the site began to distill sugar cane juice for the production of liqueurs, and since then the company has been expanding its range into a wide variety of different spirits products. They distil the 40% 12 year old from estate grown cane in the usual barrels that once held bourbon; it won the 2009 Ministry of Rum tasting competition for Premiums, the first year it was marketed, and followed that up with a double gold from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And probably deserves it – if after a hundred-plus years of working with spirits the company still doesn’t know what it’s doing, I’d be amazed.

Appearance wise, ostentation was kept to a minimum, as probably befits a $48 rum – cardboard box of no distinction, embossed dark brown bottle hiding the golden rum within; platic tipped cork, seated tightly as my six-year-old’s fist on pocketmoney day.

The golden copper-bronze rum had remarkably slow legs which spoke well for its viscocity; the nose was initially spicy, and this faded quickly and transmuted into a rich honey-vanilla and burnt sugar accents that opened up later into subtle hints of flowers and cherries, with a sweet woody background and perhaps something subtler – that of new-mown hay, maybe some grapefruitor other citrus rind. It reminded me a bit of both the Mount Gay XO and the Flor de Cana 7 in that respect.

Flavour wise I had nothing to complain about. I liked it.  A lot. The rum was heavier and a shade thicker than the colour would have suggested: honey, nuts and caramel were there right from the get-go. The Abuelo 12 year old was not as sweet as these remarks would suggest – there was a retention of the oak there, a bratty kind of stinging insouciance that I didn’t expect from a rum aged this long.  This may have been from a shade too much oak refusing to leave, like a guest who doesn’t know the party is over. But even so it was smooth and possessing a reasonably complex profile that took time to emerge. That taste deepened on standing to slightly briny but rich molasses, and here I’d suggest that it trended toards a younger El Dorado…perhaps the ED 12 year old.

As for the fade, it was long lasting, smooth, if not entirely balanced – vanilla, tannins, dried fruits and a hint of the burnt sugars didn’t quite harmonize (but still, let me hasten to add, damned good for all that). I’d suggest that it missed being superb by some small slip of the blender’s art (or my own predilection for other profiles). But let me be clear: it’s above average and most people buying it will not be disappointed. It has points of similarity, as noted, with the Ron Zacapa (though not as smooth and not quite as sweet), Cruzan Single Barrel, Flor de Cana 7, Mount Gay XO and El Dorado 12 or younger. My take would be to have it as it is and don’t mix the thing.

I said at the beginning that rums you love are usually heartless products that give you a clonk on the head instead of returning your affection, and cost a bundle to obtain. This is true for many top-end products, but not this one: Ron Abuelo 12 year old is a reasonably gentle, occasionally-harsh-yet-loving, soft and slightly off kilter rum that doesn’t cost your left arm to get, will treat you with the respect you deserve and won’t viciously burn your precious vintage Superman comic book collection of you don’t like it. It’s moderation personified, not too much of any one thing, and delicately treads the line between too sweet and not sweet enough, between too smooth and too harsh. That probably won’t endear it fully to people with delicately attuned noses that can dissect a rum’s bouquet into fifty constituent pieces – but maybe, at end, this is a rum for the rest of us: those of us who are not Google founders or professional sample receivers, and who simply want a damned good drink that won’t bust the bank.


Mar 262013
Abuelo 7


Better than the Ron Abuelo 12 year old, if not quite as smooth. 

First posted 18 December 2011 on Liquorature.

(#088. 81/100)


As a general rule, the older a rum is, the better it’s supposed to be, and price points certainly follow on from that. We pay extra dinero for the ageing, the loss the maker suffers from the angel’s share, the supposed care and expertise taken in blending and smoothening out all the aged components so as to balance out the oakiness. So you’d think the older the rum, the better, right? Not so in this case. In fact, I reviewed the 12 and the 7 year old rums side by side and had to check my results not twice, but three times – just to make sure it wasn’t a mistake (as you can imagine, during that exercise my computational aptitude went down exponentially, hence the third check to make sure).

Ron Abuelo 7 is the younger, brasher, more insouciant sibling of the top of the line Abuelo 12 year old from Hermanos Valeros about which I wrote very recently. Made from sugar cane syrup (rendered down cane juice) deriving from cane growing right by the distillery in Panama, it is distilled in a four-column still and then aged for the duration in ex-bourbon white oak casks prior to final blending – the youngest rum in the final blend is seven years old.

I have no clue why rum producers seem to think that brown, nearly opaque, bottles, are considered a plus – it hides the colour of the spirit within fron the casual brower in the shop and gives no basis of comparison even at that admittedly coarse level. Be that as it may, the amber-gold rum – it has the appearance of fresh honey – is embraced by a simple, plastic-capped bottle, no biggie there. Presentation is rock solid without flamboyance of any kind. “I’m a rum,” this thing proclaimed with low key machismo…”nuff said.”

Right off, the nose suggested that I had was something different. Without a real sting to the snoot, the Abuelo 7 revealed scents of chocolate and coffee wallowing in a caramel burnt-sugar bath. Soft, smooth and easy on the inhale, with traces of vanilla, straw and caramel. The aspects of this nose were impressively strong and distinct (not usually the case with middle-aged rums, where one often has to strain to get the slightest hint of aromas so subtle they would make Jean Baptiste Grenouille faint with the effort).

And the arrival was, simply put, excellent. Though not quite as heavy on the tongue as the 12, it’s medium to heavy body was impressive by itself, and it shared the 12’s lack of overall sweetness. However, its smoothness and overall complexity carried me past such concerns regarding sugar: I was tasting caramel, vanilla, some oakiness and a more earthy flavours, and hidden in the back end were muskier hints of leather, of damp ground steaming after a tropical rain and baked fruit enveloped in a kind of smokiness which I found delectable. All this with almost no burn at all: I wouldn’t mix this with anything, and even over ice I might not enjoy it as much. The fade was long, deep and lasting as well, and while here some spiciness started to creep in, it was not unpleasant, but more like the deep heat generated by reddening coals in your fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or exactly the right note of strength and heat you’d want as you watch the sun sink hissing into the ocean in a pleasant tropical twilight, with a glass of this stuff in your hand. What a lovely, lovely rum this was.

Were I to wax metaphorical (again), I’d suggest that what we’re talking about here is character. The difference between various movie actors portraying the same role – and the best example might be James Bond. The Abuelo 12 aspires to be Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore – exquisitely dressed, urbane, debonair, unflappable, always ready with a quip, with the culture and breeding right there out front on the lapels of the Savile Row suits – but lacking, I dunno, some kind of down to earth machismo. The Abuelo 7 is more like, oh, Connery; or better, Daniel Craig. Brooding, capable, awesomely efficient, dynamic as all get out, yet not as well-bred. I mean, with the Abuelo 7, as with Mr. Craig, you get the elemental brutality and proficiency of a well-educated street-thug. And believe me – I mean that as a real compliment. The Abuelo, on the levels described above – taste, smoothness, complexity and character – makes me hurry to see Casino Royale again, while sticking Goldeneye and Moonraker back on the shelf.