Oct 242016

Photo shamelessly cribbed from and copyrighted to Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Caner’s Rum Quality Inverse Square Conjecture: quality of rum is inversely proportional to the square of the sum of [ glitziness of website plus design of the label ].


The presentation and advertising and marketing of this rum is all about fancy bottle and label design, gorgeous visuals, and words to make you giddy with anticipation.  It nails all aspects of those. Everything else is secondary, except the rum itself, which is tertiary.  

Just to set the stage: I honestly thought my amigo Henrik, in his savage takedown of the rum, was exaggerating his despite. However, intrigued, I begged him for samples to save me buying them, and he was prepared to gift me the whole bottle except that his luggage was already full of stuff he was bringing to Berlin (for me).  And just to see if its claim to being a “premium aged small batch rum” held up, I tried the Don Papa 7 year old (and its brother the ten year old) four  times: once with a flight of eight Jamaicans, then with a flight of seven Demeraras, a third time with a raft of agricoles and then with yet another one of nine Bajans.  

Lord Almighty, this thing was annoying. I don’t think I’ve been this irritated with a rum since the Pyrat’s 1623. It’s appalling lack of profile compared to the comparators is only matched by its self evident desire to emulate a soda pop. When I think of the elegant construction of something like the FourSquare 2006 and its years of development, I want to rend my robes, gnash my teeth and weep bitter tears of despair for the future of the rumiverse. It may be the bees knees in the Phillipines, where different rules for rum production are in force and different palates and tastes rule – but maybe it should stay there and not afflict real rums.

Think I’m being unjust?  Unseemly vicious? That I jest?  Not at all.  The 40%, American-oak-aged amber rum reeked — that’s the only word I can come up with that describes the cloying, thick aroma of yoghurt emanating from the glass, a sort of sour cream and curds kind of smell, leavened with some raspberries and cherries.  It makes the A.H. Riise Navy Rum seem like a masterpiece of blending assembly. And then there was the overdone saccharine citrus smell of fanta, bubble gum, vanilla (gobs of that), and sprite and cream soda…what the hell, maybe they tossed some coke in there too. Rum? I dunno – it smelled like a mixing agent to which one adds rum.

And it was on the palate that its true adulterated nature became fully apparent.  The mouthfeel is where it started – it literally felt like a soda, complete with the slight scrape of what could charitably be called bite but which I’ll call chamberpot-brewed rubbing alcohol.  Again that yoghurt taste was there, this time without the creaminess, the raspberries being replaced by a peach or two…and the vanilla and sprite and coke were still there in abundance, finishing the job of ruining what had been an unremarkable, unprepossessing liquid that wasted too much of my time.  There was no finish to speak of, which was unsurprising, given how dosed and choked up this thing is with so much that isn’t rum.  Even Pyrat’s XO would probably shudder at what the company did here (while taking notes).

This is the kind of rum which drives reviewers into transports of rage, because it gives all rum a bad name, and frankly, with all due respect to the nation of origin which makes the much better Tanduay 12 year old, it’s barely a rum at all.  And yet it sells briskly, calmly backstroking around in the great toilet bowl of low-to-mid-level adulterated rum sales, which just goes to show that spice and sugar will always move product.  What most of those don’t do is slap lipstick on a pig with quite the abandon and disdain for quality this one does. It truly has to be drunk to be believed, and trust me, unless you love your dentist, that’s not something I would recommend.


Other notes

I might have been less snarky if they had simply labelled it as a spiced rum (which it is) instead of some kind of aged artisinal product (which it isn’t).

Cyril at DuRhum had this run through a lab test and that evaluated it with 29g/L sugar, 2.4 g/L glycerol and a massive 359 mg/L of vanilla.

Who makes this? Well, the Bleeding Heart Rum Company, to be exact, and this link will answer most other questions about the product. BHRC is in turn a subsidiary of Kanlaon Limited a small single-director, 100-share company registered in a business village in Middlesex, listing Mr. Stephen Carroll as the man in charge, and he apparently worked for Remy Cointreau for some years before striking out on his own (he has other directorships in companies involved in film and video production).  Since I don’t trust much of anything the website says, I won’t rehash its blurbs here.

Oct 092016


The confusion as to what this white is meant for – a soft mixing rum, or an intro to individualistic macho – makes it, paradoxically enough, falter at both.


You can imagine my surprise when I ran through the Ron Aldea line of rums from the Canary Islands last year, and after talking to the genial guy at the booth at my usual inordinate length, realized with astonishment that here was Santiago Bronchales, who previously was deeply involved with Ocean’s Atlantic, a rum I had thought was perhaps too overambitious for its own good, if reasonably drinkable.  Once he realized that I was the guy who had pestered him with no end of emails about his previous offering, his face split into a grin, and he carefully ran me through the entire history and lineup of the Ron Aldeas rums.

The Caña Pura — “pure cane” to you non-Spanish speaking folk reading this — is a white rum,  bottled at a rather timid 42%, unaged and in this case limited 1794 bottles (for a reason I’m still researching). All of the Aldea rums are rhums, true agricoles, distilled from fermented cane juice to 62% in a double column copper still made by the French firm Egrott, which Santiago helpfully informed me is 150 years old and powered with a wood-fed fire in the Canary Islands.

“Clear”, “white” or “silver” rums are gaining in popularity as people realize the same old industrially filtered milquetoast we all grew up on is not all there is to the uncoloured rumiverse. Haitian clairins, Cape Verde “grogue” and just about every bathtub distilled moonshine with a label slapped on that’s ever been made are leading the charge with the word “artisan” and “natural” being bandied about as major selling points, and full proof versions of such rums sell briskly.

aldea-cana-pura-2Unfortunately, this rhum isn’t part of that revolutionary vanguard of the peasants charging the barricades or assaulting the Bastille.  It’s more like a timorous, vacillating, middle-class bystander hoping not to get creamed in the chaos. Part of that is the strength, which at 42% doesn’t give much – the nose, for example, was quite weak, sharp on the initial sniff, with flashes of flavour peeking through….salt, olives and wax in the beginning, melding into sugar water and tree sap with some very light fruit after a while, mostly white guavas, a pear or two, and some vanilla.

While I liked the palate more than the aromas, I felt it was still too harsh and sharp (and a little dry, oddly enough).  The flavours opened up quite a bit more here: sweet sugar water, lemon zest, more briny olives, followed by cucumbers, pears, and there was some watermelon in there somewhere, hiding and refusing to be isolated, preferring (if I can extend the metaphor) to hide behind the other bystanders.   The finish: short, sweet, watery, more of the same.

Overall, this is not a narcissistic halo rum meant to laugh in the face of the musketry while joyously singing the “Arrorró” (so look it up).  It lacks the huevos for that kind of thing, and feels more like something tossed off to round out the portfolio (but if that’s the case, why the limited edition of 1794 bottles?). One could argue that an unaged white isn’t going to provide much so why write so much about it, but I dispute that, having had some crazy barking-mad hooch in my time – they were never top scorers, and never will be,  but man, they sure had character.  That’s what’s missing here.

In the main, then, the Caña Pura is more for the curious who would like to try something in between the more forceful French island blancs and the wussy mixers of the North American market.  Personally I believe the rhum could – and should – be left at the initially distilled and torqued-up 62% which would certainly make an emphatic statement in today’s world. Even at 42% it’s too tame and too quiescent, nervously peeping over the fullproof fence without every taking the chance to go there. That doesn’t make it a bad white mixing rhum, but it does leave us wondering what it could have been.


Company bio

The company itself, Distilerias Aldea S.I., is a 4th generation family-run outfit, founded in 1936 by Don Manuel Quevedo German, who was born in 1872 in Arucas, a small northern village of Grand Canary, and whose family seemed to have some energizer bunny in the gene pool, surviving the closure of just about every sugar operation with which they were associated over nearly sixty years. Don Manuel moved to Cuba and Santo Domingo as a young man and apprenticed in sugar mills in both places before returning to Gran Canaria, where he worked with his father an uncle in the Bañaderos sugar factory.  This facility was closed and shipped to Madeira in the sugar slump of the ‘teens and by 1920 all the main sugar concerns in the Canaries were out of business. After the factory in Madeira in turn got shuttered  in 1934, Quevado returned to the Canaries and took his accumulated experience to open his own operation…which also went belly-up in 1960 for various economic reasons, but which his sons restarted in La Palma in 1969 and has kept going ever since.

Other notes

In the 2016 Berlin Rum Fest, Aldea is hosting a masterclass which I’ll attend to see what other info I can get about the lineup.

I don’t know if it is filtered or not, or added to. I’ve heard that some mark it down for a certain sweetness and too little originality.  I’ll update this review when I find out.

Oct 042016


A light, easygoing, tasty three year old that’s better than average.  


Located in Belmopan (capital of Belize), Travellers is a distillery which traces its origins to 1953 when Master Blender Senor Omario Jaime Pedomo opened a bar he named Traveller’s as a nod to the rum sales made to people travelling to and from Belize City. The company currently uses molasses with natural fermentation (both source of the former and duration of the latter are unknown to me at this time) and double distills the result in a triple column continuous still, for a supposedly smoother, lighter taste.  Like many other likker outfits that are big in their own country (DDL comes to mind) they also produces liqueurs, brandies, gins, wines, and vodka, mostly for the local market.

Given that I enjoyed the other rums made by them, it’s odd how long this Belizean hooch escaped my grubby little paws and maybe says something for my purchasing priorities, or where I’ve been buying.  It’s the mid-range companion to the quite interesting 1-Barrel and 5-Barrel expressions (the numbers refer to the years of ageing), which may not have scored in the stratosphere, but were tasty, workmanlike rums by any standard. If I had to stratify them, I’d say they were a kind of mix of the softer Bajan and Spanish styles, but that’s just me.

travellers-3-barrel-1The 3 barrel also evinces a peculiarity of the Traveller’s design philosophy – every one of their three products sports a different label, this one with that “parrot” moniker on it which was absent in the other two, and the five even went with a different bottle shape entirely. It doesn’t really matter, not does it impact my enjoyment, it’s just a curious divergence from the norm of consistency, and I wonder whether it’s deliberate.

Anyway, moving right along: a light orange-gold rum aged three years, distilled at 40% for the North American market (I’ve not seen any Europeans review it, which suggests it’s either attracting zero attention there or simply not available). A quick sharp jab of turpentine and wax flared briefly on the nose, and then was gone, followed by wood, sawdust, salted caramel, Haagen-Dasz toffee ice cream and vanilla.  Only barely could some light fruity notes be discerned, maybe cherries, maybe apricots — in either case they were overripe.  It was an interesting smell, overall, especially in how it developed, but admittedly somewhat schizophrenic between sweet and salt and fruity.

The rum was medium bodied in the mouth, a little sharp, because the ageing had been brief enough to just take some of the edges off a rawer, more jagged profile, not all. In a peculiar reversal of the way flavours usually develop, it started off with large, dominant flavours of butterscotch, caramel, crushed walnuts and toffee, plus a minor key of cinnamon, apricots and faint citrus, maybe orange peel…and crushed apples bleeding juice before being made into cider.  The finish was perhaps the oddest part of my experience with this rum – it was short and the initial smells that I noted did an Alcatraz at the beginning, were back here: wax, paraffin, some turpentine and furniture polish, as well as sweeter, shyer notes of fruits, more caramel, more butterscotch…there really was too much of this.

On balance, the Parrot 3 Barrel showcased rather more potential than actuality.  Digging out my initial tasting notes for the 1 and 5 barrel, it’s clear this falls right in the middle, the tastes of the  former being tamed a little and being more developed, while not quite at the level of the latter. Something about the overall dominance of the toffee and caramel and vanillas was vaguely off-putting, and didn’t allow the subtler flavours to come through as well as they might have.

So although it’s a well made drink, I think it’s a bit of a yawn-through — still not in the ballpark of either the 5-Barrel or the Don Omario’s 15 year old, and yet lacking the 1-Barrel’s unashamed, almost joyous assertiveness and youth. Like a middle child not knowing which one of the siblings to hang out with, this rum uneasily tries to bridge the divide while balancing precariously in the centre.  That it succeeds at all (and it does, more or less) and provides an enjoyable experience, is quite a feat under such circumstances



Oct 022016


Not quite on the level of either of the 2012 editions



When trying many rums of similar antecedents – year, maker, style – what we are doing is examining all the ways they are similar, or not. The underlying structure is always the same, and we search for points of difference, positive or negative, much in the way we review wines, or James Bond movies.  Velier’s own Caronis and Demeraras are examples of this, as is this collaboration with Gianni Capovilla from Bielle on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe). Some reviewers take this to the extremes of delving into the minutiae of single-barrel rums issued in the same year by different independent bottlers, assessing the various barrels from, say, 1988, but I lack this kind of laser-focus, and it’s good enough for me to pick up a few bottles from a given outfit, and see if any general conclusions can be drawn from them.

rrl-2010-2The basic facts are clear enough for the Liberation: one of the first (if not the first) double-distilled rhum to roll off the line of the new distillery next to Bielle which began its operation around mid 2007, aged a smidgen under three years, bottled at a robust 45% (note that the 2012 editions were 45% for the standard 2012 and 59.8% for the Integrale), coloured a dark orange-gold.  The labelling continues – or originates – the practice of showing the picture of an animal utterly unrelated to rum, which I have been informed is a suggested meal pairing if one was to have the two together (but about which, here, I have my doubts).

The nose was quite nice, with all the subtle complexity and depth I had been led to expect from the Rhum Rhum line. Dusty, dry, some citrus peel (orange), watermelon, even some grass.  It smelled clear and smooth and clean, with just a hint of pot still lurking grumblingly in the background but staying firmly there.  Like with the others, waiting for it to open up rewards the patient, eventually giving up further notes of some light caramel, coconut shavings and brine, all integrating quite well.

The palate evinced a discombobulated richness that indicates the evolution these rhums continue to go through, and which suggests a product profile still not firmly fixed in the maker’s mind.  It was like a cross between a crisp white agricole and a finished whisky (perhaps a Glendronach, what with their sherry finishes), to the benefit of neither.  There were perfumed aromas and tastes of frangipani and hibiscus, which barely missed being cloying; coconut shavings, some brine and olives (though the rhum was not tequila-ish in the slightest), more vegetals and wet grasses, but little of that delicate sugar water sweetness which I sensed in the nose (or vanilla, or caramel).  To say that I was nonplussed might be understating the matter – I’m no stranger to divergent noses and palates, but usually the latter is more demonstrative, more emphatic than the former….here the reverse was the case.  Still, it finished well, being nice and long and aromatic – the florals dialled themselves down, there was a lesser briny note here, and the vanilla and faint caramel were delicately evident once again, accompanied by a very nice touch of honey.  So it was a very nice sipping-quality rum, just outdone by its peers from later years.

Earlier I mentioned points of difference.  I thought this rhum had a better opening nose than the 2012, but was a little thinner on the palate, was slightly less rich, less enjoyably complex.  Honestly, there’s little major difference between the two (though the Integrale exceeds them both)…yet if I were to chose I think the 2012 has my vote, not this one.  Here Signores Capovilla and Gargano were still in the experimental phase, maybe, still testing the variations and developing the overall philosophy of the line.  I’ve heard the 2015 is not on the level of the 2012, and the 2010 isn’t quite there.  So far, then, the 2012 editions seem to be the markers of the brand, and Integrale is still the one to buy.



Sep 282016



Inhaling the powerful scents of this rhum is to be reminded of all the reasons why white unaged agricoles should be taken seriously as drinks in their own right.  Not for Longueteau and La Confrérie the fierce, untamed — almost savage — attack of the clairins; and also not for them the snore-fests of the North American whites which is all that far too many have tried. When analyzing the aromas billowing out from my tasting glass, what I realized was that this thing steered a left-of-middle course between either of those extremes, while tilting more towards the backwoods moonshine style of the former. It certainly presented as a hot salt and wax bomb on initial inspection, one couldn’t get away from that, but it smoothened out and chilled out after a few minutes, and coughed up a few additional notes.  Was there some pot still action going on here? Not as far as I know, more a creole column still.  It was a briny, creamy, estery, aromatic nose, redolent of nail polish and acetone (which faded) watermelon, cucumbers, swank, a dash of lemon and camomile…and maybe a pimento or two for some kick (naah – just kidding about that last one).

The taste of this thing was excellent: spicy hot, fading to warm, and surprisingly smooth for a rhum where I had expected more intensity.  Like many well made full proofs, the integration of the various elements was well done, hardly something we always expect from an unaged white; and after the initial discomfort one hardly noticed that it was a 50% rhum at all. It was comparatively light too, another point of divergence from expectations.  It tasted of all the usual notes that characterize white agricoles – vegetals, lemongrass, cucumbers and watermelon, more sugar water (it hinted at sweetness without bludgeoning you into a diabetic coma with it) – and then added a few interesting points of its own, such as green thai curry in coconut milk, and (get this!) the musky sweetness of green peas. It all closed up shop with a nicely long-ish, dry-ish, intense and almost elegant finish, with an excellent balance of zest, creamy cheese and those peas, and some of the esters and acetones carrying over from where everything had started.  The balance could be better, but I had and have no complaints.

la-confrere-long-2014-1La Confrérie are not independent bottlers in the way Velier, Rum Nation or Compagnie des Indes are.  What they do is work in collaboration with a given distillery, and then act more as co-branders than issuers.  This provides the distillery with the imprimatur of a small organization well known – in Europe generally and France in particular – for championing and promoting rhum, who have selected the casks carefully; and gives La Confrérie visibility for being associated with the distillery.  Note that La Confrérie is also involved in deciding which shops get to sell the rhum, so certainly some economic incentives are at work here.  (There are some other background notes on La Confrérie in the HSE 2007 review, if you’re interested).  The two co-founders — Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany – are currently touring Europe on an Agricole Tour to promote and extend the visibility of French island rhums, so their enthusiasm and affection for agricoles is not just a flash in the pan, but something to be taken seriously.

When I consider the pain Josh Miller went through to get the twelve blanc agricoles which he put through their paces the other day (spoiler alert – the Damoiseau 55% won), I consider the Europeans to be fortunate to have much greater resources at their disposal – especially in France, where I tried this yummy fifty percenter. And frankly, when North Americans tell me about their despite for white (so to speak), having had only Bacardis and other bland, filtered-to-within-a-whisker-of-falling-asleep mixing agents whose only claim to fame is their ubiquity, well, here’s one that might turn a few heads and change a few minds.  


Other notes

  • Outturn 1500 bottles
  • Source blue cane chopped, crushed, wrung out, soaked and hooched in May 2014, left in steel vats for around six months, and bottled in March 2015.
Sep 262016



The rum that Pyrat’s could have been


A trend I see gathering more and more steam these days is that of snazzy marketing campaigns for (mostly) new rums, bugling their lovingly preserved family recipes, boasting slick webpages oddly short on facts but long on eye candy, trumpeting old traditions made new (but respectfully adhered to), or new and innovative production methods which enhance the final product.  Words like “artisan”, “premium”, “handcrafted”, “traditional”, “every single drop” are tossed around with the insouciant carelessness of hormonal teenagers with their chastity.

This kind of  folderol just irritates me, not least because it seems like such a copout, a lazy substitute for the actual product. Seven Fathoms, which is going for that last category, is staking its claim to fame on the fact that they age their rum in watertight barrels that are weighted down and put under water (42 feet deep, or seven fathoms, get it?), so that the action of the waves agitates the barrels and increases contact between rum and wood…which, with the additional pressure, thereby making for a denser flavour profile in somewhat less time. Ageing seems to be around one to three years depending on the rum.

Whether that works or not is questionable. I can accept that it likely has an effect, but whether that effect has such an impact as to elevate the whole rum to some other level of quality on the basis of claims alone is something like accepting statements of superfast ageing, or proprietary yeast strains, or family recipes from Ago, or the impact of Tanti’s enamel bathtub as a finishing agent.  Kinda have to go there and try the thing, y’know?

So let’s do that: it was an amber-red rum, bottled at 40% and aged less than five years. It smelled, on the initial pour, rather spicy – sweet and fruity, with apricots, cherries, pears and some vague breakfast spices, and with a noticeable background of orange zest (this is where the reference to Pyrat’s comes in). While most of my research suggests that it was of pot still origin, the scents lacked some of that pungency and depth which would mark it as such with more emphasis.  Still, quite a decent nose, and if not world beating, at least it was aromatic.

The taste was clearer about the origin and also quite original in its own way.  It was not quite full bodied, but spicy and smooth enough to please. Cucumbers soaked in brine and vinegar (I know how that sounds), ripe tomatoes (wtf? – that’s a first for me) and molasses, bound together by a core of caramel, nougat, peaches and other lighter fruits, sugar water, vanilla and the slightly bitter oak tannins imparted by the barrels themselves. I noted with some relief how well the orange zest that carried over from the nose had been integrated into the whole, lending just enough spritely shuck and jive to enhance without overwhelming the drink.  It was a beguiling mix of soft and spice, done well, leading to a finish that was warm, a little dry, providing closing aromas of vanilla, crushed almonds and some oak tannins.  All in all, quite serviceable for a young rum.

The Cayman island Spirits Company has been in business since about 2008 when they operated out of a small building in George Town (on Grand Cayman), and in 2013 they moved to a spanking new facility as part of their efforts to expand, diversify and launch an attack on the global market. They began back in the day with a handmade still apparently constructed from two ice-buckets welded together, but have since progressed to both a pot still and a column still, and produce the Seven Fathoms premium, as well as a series of “Governor’s Reserve” Rums – white, overproof, gold, dark, spiced, banana and coconut.  Oh, and a vodka.  And a gin.  The rum derives from local sugar cane (which a brand rep told me was “as far as possible” which I took to mean “not all of it”). The distillate comes from refined sugar and molasses fermented for six days in 4000-liter stainless steel tanks and is double distilled in a German-made copper pot still.  Then it’s barreled off into ex-bourbon barrels, which are themselves sealed in a sort of Texas-sized condom (the process is actually patented, or so I was informed), and taken out to sea somewhere secret to be submerged. Note that I’ve read the ageing is not 100% underwater but I don’t know how much is terrestrial and how much is aquatic at this point.

Summing up, then: my take is that they’ll find Europe a tougher nut to crack than the US, where younger 40% rums tend to be viewed with somewhat more favour and so sell better (and that’s not counting island-hopping tourists who stop off on Grand Cayman).  Be that as it may, here is one rum that tries to go slightly off in a new direction without entirely abandoning what a rum should be, and I’m happy to report it’s not bad at all.  This seems to be one of those instances where if you filter out the noise and rah-rah of the advertising, put away the key individualistic selling point of the ageing regimen, ignore the near-hysterically positive notes on TripAdvisor and other sites – do all of that, take it all down to its essence, and what’s left is still a rum which you won’t be unhappy buying, and sharing.



Sep 222016


The best of the Botrans, deservedly so. But it could have been better.



Botran’s top-of-the-line Special Edition is so soft it makes a feather pillow feel like it’s stuffed with discarded syringes. In comparison, the skin on a baby’s bum is rough as the glass shards on the wall around the house of a banana republic’s paranoid dictator. Yet it’s issued at a mere 40%, and that it has more qualities than defects is to its everlasting credit and our relief, for soleras do not often get much huzzah from hardcore rum fans, who prefer to have rums with rock-hard washingboard abs, massive glutes, melon shaped biceps, and both the syringes and the shards thrown in.

botran-75-004Over and above the notes on soleras and the Botran company which I covered in the 15 year, 18 year and Blanca reviews, here are the facts on this one.  9972 bottles of the rum were issued, and it it is a blend comprising rums five to thirty years old, with the average age of about ten – all aged in casks of bourbon, burned bourbon, sherry and porto, with the last six months of ageing spent in white wine casks.  The 75th Anniversary reflects its issue in 2014 (one wesbite says 2015*) to mark the birth of the company as a rum maker in 1939 when Botran was formed by los cinco hermanos.

That it is deserving of the “Special” moniker is something of an opinion.  For the makers, given their heritage and amount of time they spent making it, sure; for solera lovers of the sweet light rums, check.  As a reviewer who judges on taste, I’d have to say “yes” as well…but those who are thinking of shelling out  €160 might pause a little (that gets the buyer a presentation quality box containing a 50cl bottle, a pipette and two additional sample bottles filled with citrus and spicy variations of the rum so they can go off and make comparisons of their own, for whatever reason). For that price, we have to ask whether a 40% solera is worth it, and that comes down to more than just the tasting notes which follow.

What was evident on the nose of the rum was some of the real complexity the previous iterations aspired to but didn’t achieve: it was deep, reassuring, calm, and quiet, in no hurry to give up its secrets. Gradually, warm scents of caramel, dark chocolate and (quite a bit of) molasses sauntered out and stayed there. Over some minutes additional notes of apricots, peaches and red currants joined in, with a background of treacle, and syrup on the Little Caner’s Saturday morning pancakes.  There were enough breakfast spices in evidence to make me wonder why bother providing even more in the sample bottles, but they were muted and ancillary, not dominant, though some vanilla hints crept through at the end.

The taste was equally warm and full at the inception, complex enough to satisfy, but perhaps too mellow and sweet – that 40% strength did it no favours (what is it about so many rum producers that even for something so special, they obstinately refuse to go stronger?).  Prunes and black grapes, bitter black chocolate, licorice, more syrup.  Caramel, burnt sugar, charred wood, coffee and molasses, firm and decisive in their own way, to which eventually were added honey and nuts, maybe a flirt of citrus.  The flavours do make strong individual statements, like a proverbial snooty waiter slamming a meal down in front of you, and they are good — but they do not geometrically improve (in line with the price differential) what could have been a magnificent creation of the blender’s art, had they boosted the amperes a mite.  That sank the finish for me, which was very warm, very smooth and which can’t be faulted except to note it was too short and displayed nothing new, which blocks me from waxing ecstatic, rhapsodic and metaphoric about the thing.

botran-75-2For all the scorn often heaped on soleras, which unfairly damages the rep of many others of the same type, I think Botran makes pretty decent rums.  By officially eschewing additives (there’s some dispute about that) and utilizing barrel selection strategies that work with port, sherry or bourbon influences, they have produced what I think are some of the best solera rums around, not excluding the Cartavio XO**.  Sure they’re too soft and mild for me as a whole when ranked against more intense, masterful indie bottlings, but for a 40% rum to impress me at all these days does require a little bit more than just slick marketing.

So there’s is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the better soleras out there, and of the four Botrans I’ve tried, it is the best.  You could haggle over the 15 and the 1893, which were roughly comparable, but this one is a step or two ahead of them both – and whether it is worth the price,  when so many other good rums compete for your attention at less than half the cost of this package, will have to be a decision you must make on your own.


Other Notes

* The spiritsbusiness website said it was issued in September 2015, which conflicts with the 75th Anniversary dating of the company formation in 1939.

** Yes, I know I scored the Cartavio XO at 88 points.  That was four years ago.  Were I to try it again, it would likely come down to this one’s level. My malty friends patronizingly remark this is called the “evolution” and “development” of taste, and hasten to assure me that one I day I will join them in appreciating whisky.  Sure guys.  


Sep 222016


For the bucks, you get a soft bang.



There are two more Guatemalan Botrans I have notes for, and perhaps see if we can find points of commonality or differences among the set, so let’s get them out of the way, rather than go somewhere else this week.  I wrote that the blanca was an interesting if ultimately uninspiring white, while the solera 15 wasn’t bad for what it was, and had a few tastes that were worthy of note.  The 1893 Solera 18 is a step up the ladder of the brand – also 40% ABV, column still product, charcoal filtered, a blend of rums between five and eighteen years old, which were variously aged in bourbon, sherry port barrels.  It’s a solera through and through.

For those coming new to soleras in general and the Botrans in particular, a brief recap: soleras are a specialized form of blending hearkening back from Spain, where it is used to this day for ageing sherry; the system is one where a rum is progressively aged, and mixed with younger rums of the same kind at periodic intervals in a series. Every year (or other interval) one barrel is partly decanted into another barrel that was an earlier version of the same rum (but is now older), and the now (partly) decanted refilled with newer spirit. The average age of the rum which is finally bottled is therefore an exercise in mathematics, based on the percentage decanted, and the interval.  This is why any bottle marked “solera” should always be assessed cautiously when looking at the numerical “years” or “años” so prominent on the label, since this is whatever (miniscule) portion of the blend that is the oldest – and can be very small indeed.

botran-18-2One reason for the style’s longevity and popularity is that the resultant spirit is quite smooth and somewhat sweet (Botran states it adds nothing to their rums) – and they are rarely bottled above 40% – so that makes them extremely easy sipping rums, as the Zacapa 23 and Dictadors and Santa Teresas have proved. Does that make them bad rums?  Not at all, because the nose on this bronze coloured rum was a delectable mixture of caramel and burnt sugar, dry and clean, somewhat at odds with the meaty fullness of the Solera 15, though not precisely delicate.  There were some baking spices and nuttiness in evidence, with a coil of rather bitter oakiness lurking in the background but which – thankfully – never came forward to elbow all the other scents out of the way.  So it was good that way, for sure.

To taste, well, it was more or less what I expected from the line, not so much a revolution as a genteel, polite evolution – slightly deeper, richer, and lacking those mineral ashy notes.  Caramel, molasses and dark unsweetened chocolate led off, followed by prunes, pears, some butterscotch and toffee, plus breakfast spices, vanilla and smokiness.  But very little of the tart fruitiness that might have elevated it a bit, too little citrus or sharper stinginess to cut the heavier, muskier tastes…at most I was getting some fried bananas done over a smoky fire.  It finished with a medium long, dry, pleasant fade redolent of toffee and nougat and maybe some creme brulee.  Nice, tasty, soft, smooth…but not world beating. It lacked the originality for that.

For a rum that was marginally older than the 15 (in average terms), I felt the complexity wasn’t all that hot and indeed, fell behind the “younger” one in a few areas. Sometimes, when you taste a rum you get a mental sense of time and place (Clement XO was like that for me), but if Botran was trying to make you feel you were up in them thar montañas, I think they miscalculated, because I didn’t get clean, crisp scents at all — what I really felt was that I was in a disused, windowless kitchen where the spice jars had been left open too long. That’s not enough to make for a disqualification, but it does make it less value for money than the 15. Though it is, very slightly, better.


Other notes:

Botran kindly responded to my query about the name of the rum. The meaning of “1893” relates to the year that the first of the Botran brothers, Venancio Botran, was born. This edition is paying homage to him.

Sep 192016


As soleras go, this one is pretty good, and is less sweet than many, which is to its advantage



Sooner or later, everyone who drinks the good stuff passes through the solera style of rums.  Some brands have become behemoths, like the Zacapa 23 or Dictadors, and are adored and reviled in equal measure.  The key points for both sides are the taste and the age statement. Given the increasing polarization of the rum world between those who “like what they like” versus those who feel only “real rums” should be marketed as such (and drunk), and who advocate for greater disclosure, it’s important to understand that’s the main source of the discord.

In short, any solera-stated rum is a blend, and any age-related number included on the label refers to the oldest part of that blend (not the youngest), with nothing to help a discerning buyer establish how much rum of that age is actually in there – people who want to know what’s in their hooch hate this kind of marketing, where a number is posited – 15!! — without further embellishment. However, it must be said that Botran, with roots in Spain and its sherry tradition (which uses such an ageing regime), has always made soleras, and they hew to all the taste profiles this system is known for: smooth, soft, warm, sweet. And in this case, according to the brand rep in 2015 who ran me through the lineup, while the rum is a true solera, fully 50% of the result is actually fifteen years old.  Ummm.  Okay. That doesn’t square with the mathematics, but a blend is a blend no matter what you call it, so I take it without comment and move on.

d3s_3683Part of the reason for the sweetness in this case lies in the finishing regime. The Botran Reserva 15 is laid to rest for several months in sherry casks after having been aged in lightly toasted bourbon casks (although I’ve heard some age in port casks, but that may be anecdotal). Those soleras I have tried before hewed to certain markers of taste (coffee for the Dictadors, some lighter fruity notes on the Cartavio, generally firm mouthfeel and soft exit), but this one certainly went its own way.  The initial scents on the copper-brown rum were a rather startling charcoal and ashes mixed in with unsweetened dark chocolate: as full and luscious as a seedy lady of the night somewhat past her prime.  It was musty at first, warm, not hot, and rather grudgingly gave way to a subdued fruitiness  – the heavier notes of overripe cherries and light tartness red currants.  Not bad, really, since originality of assembly is something I enjoy if done right.

It also presented some rather good heft for a 40% rum (this is where the suspicions of dosing creep in), presenting a medium to full bodied mouthfeel that was quite soft, and smooth to a fault.  The initial taste was of caramel and burnt sugar – none of that ashes and charcoal taste carried over from the nose at all. Indeed, here the fruits took on a greater influence, with the heavier notes of plums, cherries, peaches taking their turn but mixing it up well with some chocolate and coconut shavings  – there was perhaps some smoke at the back end, leading to a finish where the slightest bit of wood and vanilla were back, breathing drowsily into a short ending.  All in all, there was no single backbone of flavour upon which all the other tastes were hung, more a commingling of individual pieces that tasted and smelled well, but were individually unassertive.  What that means is some will like it for that precise reason, while others will think it’s too wussy and too easy and meant for those lacking an adventurous yo-ho-ho spirit embodied by a higher and more intense proof point. But that, I believe, is to miss the point, since soleras are not brutally elemental monsters for connoisseurs, but lighter, gentler rums that seek more to go along and get along, than to make a point of raw drinking machismo. And this one does a good job.

Speaking for myself, I have no particular issues with a rum that is sweet (or sweetened, although Botran rums’ hydrometer test results suggest they don’t add anything)…it all depends on how I feel on any particular day, and (perhaps more importantly) who I’m chugging with.  If I want to introduce someone to rums, this one would be a very good place to start.  It’s perfect for an easy neat sundowner, to be sipped while we discuss how best to run the world and make it safe for rum. For those somewhat more dour drinkers of the Malt family who I’m trying to bring over to the True Faith (and who usually prefer their Hebridean hooch at cask strength), I’d probably not let them near this elegant but perhaps over-soft solera.



Sep 182016


A laid back white rum with more of a profile than expected



“A balanced combination of distilled rums” remarks the webpage for the Guatemalan company Botran, which makes a number of light, Spanish style rums in the solera method, and goes on in rhapsodic marketspeak about being aged in the mountains of Guatemala in lightly toasted white oak American barrels (although note that I was told by a brand rep that this rum was aged in French oak).  It may sound like snippiness on my part, but in truth this is still more information than many other makers provide, so back to my notes: what else is there to say about the rums they make…let’s see…column still product, aged up to three years, charcoal filtered, from reduced sugar cane juice (“honey”), fermentation taking five days or so with a pineapple-based yeast strain.

The five Botran brothers (Venancio, Andres, Felipe, Jesus and Alejandro) whose parents immigrated from Spain to Central America, established the Industria Licorera Quetzalteca in the western Guatemalan town of Quetzaltenango (2300 meters above sea level) back in 1939 when most rums were produced by Mom-and-Pop outfits on their own parcels of land.  The company remains a family owned business to this day; curiously, the sugar cane comes from the family estate of Retalhuleu in the south.  They also produce the Zacapa line of rums which have come in for equal praise and opprobrium in the last few years, a matter originating in the disdain some have for the solera method, the sweetness and the light nature of the rums, as well as the feeling that no age statement should be put on such products.

botran-blanca-2Still, the rum’s profile is what I’m looking at today, not how it’s made, so let’s move on. Those with preferences running towards lighter, easier fare will find little to complain about here, and for a white rum that has been filtered to the colour of water, it’s not bad.  It doesn’t smell like much at the inception – mostly light vanilla, a little watermelon and sugar water, with some estery potential more sensed than actually smelled.  It was really faint, very light, very easy — and that didn’t allow much aroma to come out punching, another thing that cask strength rum lovers sniff at with disdain.

You get more on the palate, which was pleasing: the undercurrent of acetone and nail polish remained firmly in the background, some grassiness and vanilla, as well as bananas and a flirt of sweetness that reminded me of nothing so much as marzipan, all mixed up with coconut shavings and sugar water.  Even at 40% ABV it was a very gentle, relaxed sort of rum (as many aged whites are), and unfortunately that carried over to a rather short and lackluster finish that had nothing additional to add to the conversation.  All in all, it was a slightly above-average white mixer, drier and with somewhat more tastes evident in it than I had been expecting – it was certainly better than the baseline Bacardi Superior, for which I have little patience myself unless I want to get hammered when nothing else is available.

At the end, the question is what the rum is for, and the conclusion is that outside the mixing circuit, not much – and indeed, that is how it is sold and marketed.  Even with the flavours described above, it’s likely too bland (and too weak) to appeal to those who like sipping their rums, and is more a wannabe competitor for the white Bacardis which have greater market share.  I’m not convinced the solera system helps this (or any) white rum much, or provides any kind of real distinctiveness to the brand.  The company might be better off not trying to go head to head with the mastodons of the white mixing world, but to carve out a niche of its own by being fiercer, more aggressive, more unique.  But then, of course, it would not be a Botran rum: and given the decades and generations the family has put it into their products, it’s unlikely to happen anyway. Too bad…because that means it remains what it is, a decent cocktail ingredient, displaying little that’s extraordinarily new or original.


Other notes

Introduced in 2012.  There are other flavoured whites made by the company, none of which I’ve tried

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