Dec 062016
 

aldea-tradicion

A unassuming and ultimately flawed 22 year old rum

#324

As one goes through the line of the various Ron Aldeas, which are serviceable mid-tier rums, one notices that the clear agricole profile gets progressively more lost, which I attribute to primarily the strategy of using variously toasted barrels in varying proportions.  Depending on whether you want an agricole-style rum to taste like one, this may not be to your liking.  This rum does not hail from the French islands or subject to the AOC (its influences are more Spanish than anything else), and therefore what we are tasting is something from elsewhere – the Canary Islands in this instance. No doubt different taste and blending and ageing influences come to bear when makers from other parts of the world approach the same distillate.

As usual, some general information before we delve into the tasting notes. The Tradición is a cane-juice-derived,  column still product, bottled at 42% with a 3428-bottle outturn. The 1991 edition I tried came out in 2013, making it a 22 year old, and was matured in barrels of different kinds of oak, with differing levels of toast; for the final two years the rum is transferred to used barrels of red wine (not identified) to add finish. Therein lies a problem because while that finishing regime does add some complexity, it also adds sweetness; and when I read that Drejer measured 27 g/L (which is assumed to be sugar), I can understand why it was issued at a slightly higher proof point.

That level of sugar is not immediately apparent. Somewhat at a tangent, nosing the bronze rum makes one wonder immediately where the agricole notes went off and hid themselves, because as with the Ron Aldea Familia (and to a lesser extent the Superior), the clean grassy and herbal smells that characterize the profile are utterly absent.  Still, what was presented wasn’t bad – peaches in cream, toffee, nougat, white toblerone, almonds were immediately apparent, with fruitier raisins and dried fruits coming up from behind, probably courtesy of those wine barrels.  Not a very potent nose, just a soft and warm one.

I noted above that the rum tested positive for sugar.  On the palate, that was unavoidable (my original handwritten notes, made before I knew of Drejer’s results, read “wht’s wth sweet?  ths all cmng from wine barrels?”).  It may be a comfort to those who don’t mind such things that enough flavours remained even after that inclusion to make for an interesting sip.  Initially there was the same vanilla, oak and leather, with a warm, smooth mouthfeel, and as it opened up the fruits came out and did their thing, presenting  green apples, raisins, some cider and red grapes…just not what they could have been. They felt dampened down and muffled, not as crisp and clear as they might have been.  It all led to a finish that was warm and hurriedly breathy as a strumpet’s fake gasps – and alas, like that seemingly spectacular activity, the experience was far too fleeting, without anything new to add to the profile as described.

Of the four Aldeas I tried in tandem, this is undoubtedly the best — a warm, fragrant, almost gently aged rum, lacking the fierce untrammelled power and purity of a stronger drink. The finishing in wine barrels also adds a little something to the overall experience (which the additives then frustratingly take away). In these characteristics lie something of the rum’s polarizing nature – those who want a beefier rum will think it’s too soft; those who see “cane juice origin” and want that kind of herbal taste and don’t get it, will be miffed; and those who want a clean rum experience will avoid it altogether. The rum is rather light, and the sweetness imparted by the finish and the additives work against the delicacy of the distillate, deadening what could have been a better drink, even with the extra two percentage points of proof over the standard.

But all that aside, it’s not entirely a bad rum; as with the Centenario 20, various Panamanians or soleras (which this is not, but the similarity is striking), one simply has to walk into it knowing one’s preferences ahead of time — then buy if it’s one’s thing, try if curious, avoid if turned off. Starting the sip with preconceived notion as to what one wants, what the rum is, or what the makers seek to achieve, might just be a recipe for disappointment.  And that would be unfair to what is, as noted in my one line summary, quite a pleasant and unassuming 20+ year old product. Strength aside, my only real beef with the thing is the utterly unnecessary adulteration – by doing so, Aldea, for all their skill in bringing this well-aged rum to the party, have left several additional points of easily attainable quality behind on the table and diminished my ability to provide an unqualified endorsement for a rum that should have been better.

(84/100)

Dec 052016
 

aldea-familia-1

A decent fifteen year old faux-agricole trying to moving away from its origins.

#323

Sorry, but “Chairman’s Select Hidden Treasure,” “Special Top Brass Only Reserve,” “Family Laid Away” casks, you know the kind of special rums to which I refer…stuff like this just makes me smile.  Largely because I see it as nothing more than a name applied so as to move product.  Of course, in the old days of landed estates run by the plantocracy, such special hooch really was made, exclusively for the caudillos and the nobility, for the chairman, business titans, princes, presidents, political hacks, Government apparatchiks, visiting tourists, the special invitees, Santa Claus, retiring veeps and senior managers (are we sure we speak only of the past here?).  

And now, through an enormous stroke of good fortune and generosity of the makers, us. One wonders how it is possible for something made for so exclusive a clientele, by any of the makers who issue them, to ever get into the grubby paws of the the great unwashed masses and the hordes of the illiterate rabble (you know, like me and you), but I suppose economics is economics and the producers of these apparent ambrosias wish to share their street cred just to, well, show they have it in the first place.

In any case, editorializing aside and whatever the source, let’s just call it what it is, a fifteen year old rum with a name meant to showcase its exclusivity, and move on…if I go along this line of thought I might let my snark off the leash, and nobody wants that.

Aside from such historical company details as are already in Cana Pura review, the background to this Canary-Island-made rum are fairly straightforward. This is a true fifteen year old rum limited to 6964 bottles, aged from 1998 to 2013 in French oak of different levels of toast (you could call this an “enhanced” recipe, I suppose), thereby following on from the Ron Aldea Superior’s barrel strategy. The Familia, like the Superior, is derived from cane juice not molasses, although in this instance one could be forgiven for wondering where the rhum went since the profile is so much more “traditional.”

That might be a rather controversial opinion, but observe the profile as we step through what it sampled like. The nose was gentle, subtle, easy, and too faint, really, which is a bitch I have about all 40% rums these days, some more than others – here it’s about par for the course, maybe a bit richer than normal for that strength. There were pleasant notes of vanilla, aromatic tobacco, cheerios with some cinnamon and nutmeg, toffee and caramel. But very little of the agricole content which we might have expected .  Pleasant yes, agricole no, and overall, too light for easy appreciation of the smells.

More of the same was on the taste, nice as the mouthfeel and texture was – vanilla, caramel, aromatic pipe tobacco, some winey notes.  It was a little sharp, no problem, light in the mouth overall, perhaps on the border of thin. Briny, an olive or two.  Fruits, I suppose, but they’re too indistinct and jumbled up in the mix to be easily separated and individually identified and so let’s call it a dampened-down fruit salad and move on. The finish was reasonable, ending things with a warm, medium long, and vaguely fruity close.  It’s the faintness and lack of firmness, that final exclamation point, that makes it fall down, and yes, that’s traceable to the 40%, which in honesty I felt should have been at least five points higher to make a statement worth noting.  Let’s be fair, however – for those who like the lighter Spanish style rons, this will go over well.  Just because I prefer hairier, stronger rums doesn’t mean you do, or will, or should.

So back to that opinion. The rum falls somewhat short of the quietly tasty Superior rum made by the same company.  There, the agricole background was more interestingly integrated into the flavour notes, and you couldn’t miss it.  Though both of these rums are from cane juice (and may therefore be termed agricoles), and while neither supposedly have additives***, the French island profile of the Familia has been kind of lost on me, and therefore it presents much more like a molasses-based British Caribbean rum (with some Spanish influences).  That makes it relate to a whole different crop of rums, and in that crowded field, it somehow lacks sufficient gravitas to command either attention or my unadulterated appreciation.  

(81/100)

*** The master rum sugar list shows this to have 20g/L of sugar, so the big question is where’s this coming from, and why isn’t it disclosed?

Dec 042016
 

aldea-superior-1

#322

With respect to companies which don’t want to make (or be seen to make) spiced or flavoured sugar bombs, it’s always instructive to observe the techniques that they use to avoid the dreaded “A” word. Some play with ageing or blends, some with finishing (the new El Dorado 15 year old series comes to mind), some with unorthodox schemes (like Lost Spirits or 7 Fathoms), some with toasting, but all are trying to do the same thing – impart an extra smidgen of taste to their rum, without actually adding anything to it, which I’m sure makes any rum nerd’s heart pitter-patter happily. Ron Aldea, a rum company from the Canary Islands, in the place of combined finishing and ageing regimes such as Gold of Mauritius and Mauritius Club utilize, prefer to experiment with their cask strategy – in this case they used brand new American oak barrels with heavy toasting levels, which I take to mean an inordinate level of char – but fortunately without any wine or port sloshing around inside.***

For those who didn’t read about the Caña Pura White Rum (I felt it tried unsuccessfully to straddle some kind of middle ground between soft mixer and individualistic white), it’s worth mentioning that all Ron Alddea’s rums derive from cane juice distilled to 62% in a 150-year-old, wood-fire-fed double column copper still — made by the French firm Egrott — in the Canary Islands. For those interested in historical details of the company itself, the Caña Pura review has it at the bottom of the page.

aldea-superior-3This particular rum, renamed the Maestro for the 2016 release season, was the 2013 edition limited to 9258 bottles, and dialled way down to 40%. It was a darkish gold colour, and initially presented a nose that was quite lovely…breathy even (“Hi sailor-man…want a good time?…”) before thinning out and gasping for air, which is a characteristic all 40% rums share, unfortunately. Still, all was not lost – fresh peaches and apricots were there, weak but accessible, plus clearer, purer aromas – cucumbers, pears, sugar water, cut grass in rain, herbals, and a last rounding off of vanillas and a vague bitterness of oak. Char or no char, ten years in new oak was discernible, though well handled and not overbearing,

The agricole origin of the rum (perhaps I should call it rhum) develops from the hints given in the nose, and blossoms into something much more in the realm of such products: grassy, clear vegetals; more peaches and apricots and softer fruits, yet with some tartness, like unripe but yellow mangoes, under which coiled a creamier background of soft sweet white chocolate coffee and sugar…almost a cappuccino. The divergence from the norm came with an odd taste of ashy mineral-like notes that fortunately stayed well in the background, but were definitely noticeable. The finish was about standard for a 40% rum – short and heated, quite nice in its own way — not overly complex, just as comfortable and easy as an old chesterfield, with closing hints of chocolate and vanilla, and very little of the spicier, fruity notes. Perhaps that was to its detriment – the integration of these various tastes matters, and here it was impossible to pick apart individual notes – but I acknowledge that’s a matter of private opinion. And as a matter of record, I did enjoy the Superior quite a bit.

Overall, for its strength and age it’s a pretty good mid-tier rum (or rhum). It’s not as distinctive as the El Dorados, say, or the various Jamaicans, or even those from St Lucia or the French islands, but I’m not sure that’s the intent. Santiago Bronchales, who I’ve been watching and talking to since his involvement in the interesting if flawed Ocean’s rum, is more of an experimenter, not a copier or a follower-on of old traditional rum profiles, and likes to go in original directions. He takes what he can, does what he is allowed, and is trying to come up with his own version of the perfect profile at the strength he knows will sell. The Superior 10 year old he’s made here is another step on the road to discovery of his own personal truth, and is an interesting rum to try when you have the chance.

(83/100)

***Drejer has measured this rum to have 22g/L of sugar/additives.  Initially I was prepared to argue that the vanillas and sweetness I noticed where barrel related, but a measurement of that magnitude kind of throws me, and I’ve sent a note along to Ron Aldea for their response.

 

 

Oct 092016
 

aldea-cana-pura-1

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.

#310

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 fist-on-the-table 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.

(80/100)

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

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.

The rum will be renamed “Single Cane” for the 2016 release season and onwards.

Nov 202014
 

D3S_8850

 

A rum potentially seventeen years old, undone by trying to be all things to all drinkers.

(#188 / 81.5/100)

***

Ocean’s Rum Atlantic Limited Edition 1997 is made (or at least aged) in the Canary Islands, not the first place you’d think about when considering a rum of any kind.  Probably thinking that less was not more, and more might be good enough, the makers came up with this rather startling combo of components hailing from seven (yes, seven) different rum-making locations, and trotted out the 43% result as the “Atlantic” Limited Edition (the meaning of the 1997 is unclear).  I imagine that this must have read really well on paper when it was being sold to the roneros in the front line.

The bottom-heavy, tapering bottle had a label with an astrolabe printed on it, harking back to the old maritime days of yore.  The rum itself was a blend of already-aged rums that were between 15-21 years old, and hailing from Bodegas Pedro Oliver (Domincan Republic – it’s not mentioned on the label in error), Foursquare (Barbados), DDL (Guyana), Trinidad Distillers (T&T), Worthy Park Distillers (Jamaica), Distilerie de Gallion (Martinique), and Travellers (Belize).  Quite an assortment, I thought.  The rums were blended and then aged for a further two years in barrels that held red wine from Spain (Somontano), blended some more, allowed to rest for a further year and then run off into 5,432 numbered bottles in June of 2013.  I’d like to point out that this is not a one-off either – Ocean’s has a similar limited edition “Pacific” rum (including stock from Fiji), and an “Indian” rum (with some rum from Swaziland added too), which suggests a company ethos of having at least one rum from out of left field included in their blends.

Now, having come at rums from a perspective of clearly defined styles as well as specific countries, I confess to being somewhat doubtful (if intrigued) about the philosophy of mixing the darker Guyanese rums with funkier Jamaican ones, the softer style of Barbados and Belize, mixing in a Dominican, throwing in Trinidad’s odd tang, and finally adding an agricole into the mix as well – it just flies in the face of experience, is all.  Intriguing, yes…but successful? I guess that depends on the drinker.

Take for example, the nose on this 43%, mahogany-red coloured rum. Caramel, peaches, brown sugar, rye bread and butter – a shade briny, pleasant. Further notes of faint honey, coffee and coconut presented after a while. All in all, while decent, it was not out-of-the-canefield special for a €75 purchase (I expected more) and frankly, I thought the aroma was undernourished, perhaps a shade thin, like Steve Rogers before he buffed up.

Which is not to say the whole experience was unpleasant; the palate was quite generous in this regard: caramel, peaches, brown sugar presented first, with more of that faintly briny undertone.  It’s smooth enough and sweet enough (perhaps too much so).  Here I could detect some of the components as well – licorice and raisins, more coconut and honey, a flirt of cinnamon, softer honey notes, a very tiny backend of citrus and oak.  At 43% some of the intensity of flavour was lost; and I should remark on the overall lightness and cleanliness of the taste.  The finish was reasonable, exiting with closing notes of cinnamon and caramel, and a bit of citrus peel. Yet somehow I was left feeling dissatisfied.  The softer flavours did not mesh well with the sharper ones of oak and citrus, and the coconut was a less than perfect match-up with the licorice.

D3S_8857

Ocean’s is a new outfit based in Zaragoza, Spain, beginning its life in 2012. As is common with relative newcomers, their website is long on products and marketing, and short on history (something I personally enjoy, others probably not so much).  Essentially they are an independent bottler, but with ambition: they have ageing warehouses the Ayala Valley (Basque Country, Spain) and La Palma Island  in the Canaries. They have various seven year old rums, the limited editions, and some craft stocks from Jamaica, Trinidad and other places.  So you can tell these boys mean business and want to be around for the long haul (I wrote a bio of the company here).

Anyway, my opinion: overall, on taste and nosing elements and on the finish, the rum will please a lot of people and it’s a decent all round drink that need not be mixed if you don’t want to. It works…to a point. As I noted above, the balance of the various components doesn’t really gel for me;  all the dancers were on the stage, yes…they just weren’t all doing the same ragtime, so to speak.

There’s no denying that Ocean’s, afire with enthusiasm and brimming with confidence, threw away the safety gear, took a deep breath, and ran full speed and headfirst into the wall.  You can’t help but admire that.  But admiration aside, a cold and unemotional taste of this premium-touted Atlantic edition leaves me wishing they had exhibited just a bit more restraint, been more ruthlessly selective. And not quite so heedlessly assembled such a smorgasbord of rums, which ended up being somewhat (and unfortunately) less than the sum of its parts.

*

 

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