May 022017
 

#361

The Sancti Spiritus distillery in Central Cuba, also known as Paraiso, has been making rums since 1946, and other than its history (see “other notes” below) there is remarkably little hard information about its operations, its size, volume or exports on hand. Aside from what must be substantial local production which we don’t see, they may be better known for the relatively new Ron Paraiso brand, as well as from the labels of independent bottlers like Compagnie des Indes, Kill Divil, Bristol Spirits, the Whisky Agency, and, here, W.M.Cadenhead.  Based on what one sees for sale online, barrels seem to have begun hitting Europe somewhere around the mid 1990s, with the one I’m looking at today coming off the (columnar) still in 1998 and bottled at a firm 59.2% in 2013.  Cadenhead, as usual, have amused themselves with putting the abbreviation “ADC” on the label, which could mean variously “Aroma de Cuba,“ or “Acerca de caña” or, in my patois, “All Done Cook” – any of these could be used, since Cadenhead never discloses – or doesn’t know itself – what the initials denote, and I’m tired of asking and getting “Ahhhh…duuuuh….Cuba?” in response.

A number of people who like the heavier, thrumming British West Indian rums (from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados for example) have sniffed disparagingly to me about Spanish rons recently, especially the column still ones, which are most of them.  I suspect this has to do with their despite for Bacardi and the light Panamanian stuff that’s been slipping in the ratings of late.   Nothing wrong with that, but my own feeling is that they’re casting too wide a net, and if one throws out an entire region’s worth of bathwater based on a few sampled rums, then one misses the baby that washed out the door as well.  Maybe it’s the occasional lack of verifiable ageing, maybe it’s the lightness, maybe it’s the palate of the drinker. Don’t know. But this Cuban ron does deserve a closer look.

Consider first the nose on the pale yellow ron: it was a sparkling, light dose of crisp, clean aromas, starting off with rubbery, sweet acetones all at once.  In its own way it was also quite tart, reminding me of gooseberries, pickled gherkins, cucumbers and lots of sugar water, stopping just short of presenting an agricole profile.  I don’t think I could have sipped it blind and known immediately it was from Cuba.  At a whisker shy of 60% it attacked strongly, but was too well made to be sharply malicious, and was simply and forcefully intense, which was to its credit and made the experience of smelling it a very good one, especially once some soursop, citrus and baking spices were coaxed out of hiding a few minutes later.

The taste fell down somewhat – there was dry wood, a lot of strange and almost-bitter tannins at the start; which was fortunately not a disqualification, because these tastes balanced off what might otherwise have been an overabundance of light sweetness represented by watermelon and papaya and Anjou pears.  Gradually it unfolded like a flower at dawn, producing additional faint notes of orange zest, almost-ripe yellow mangoes and apricots, balanced by iodine, menthol (!!), tumeric and some strong black tea, all of which led to a conclusion that was suitably long, clear and spicy, closing off the show with nutmeg, more of that tartness, and a flirt of orange zest.

Briefly, Cadenhead’s ADC stacked up well against a raft of agricoles, Spanish and Surinamese rums that were on the table that day. It did make me think, though: reading around others experiences with Cuban rums generally, one thing that strikes me as consistent is that the demonstrably older a Cuban rum is, the more commonly it is scored high.  Now pot still rums made with some skill can be good right out of the gate, and creole column-still juice out of the French islands prove all the time that higher age does not necessarily confer higher praise (or scores).  But with column still rums made in the Cuban/Spanish style, the usual easy 40% young stuff or blended rons of some age just don’t have that sizzle which Cadenhead somehow extracted out of their barrel here. In other words, for such traditionally light rums, additional ageing is a better deal, it would seem.

So, in fine, I believe that this rum is better than the Havana Club Barrel Proof (and the Seleccion de Maestros that succeeded it), better than the Renegade 11 year old (but maybe I should retaste since I tried that one ages ago); it edges out the Santiago de Cuba 12 year old, though is perhaps not quite as good as the CDI Sancti Spiritus (also from 1998).  Those dour Scots took the sunshine of the tropics, doused it with some cold salt sea-spray and foam-lashed rocks, and produced an amalgam of both that’s better than either, and just falls short of remarkable – it’s worth a try by anyone, if it can still be found.

(86.5/100)

Other notes

A few words on the distillery history: called variously the Paraiso or Sancti Spiritus distillery, the founding family, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the province of Sancti Spiritus (which was also near to the original Bacardi distillery). In 1946 the Paraiso Distillery was created and in 1951, the Tuinucú Sugar Company was consolidated into both plantation and distillery operations. Since the revolution, the Government took over the entire operation not long after and has run the show ever since.

Apr 302017
 

Rumaniacs Review #034 | 0434

By now we are all aware of the two different kinds of Havana Club.  This rum is the one from Cuba, not the Bacardi version made in “not Cuba” and hails from the 1980s which, coincidentally, is when I started drinking DDL’s King of Diamonds (a useless factoid, I know).  No point rehashing well-known details of the brand, so off we go.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Oh well, very nice indeed, quite a few steps ahead of the Facundo Paraiso.  Dare I say “the real deal”?  Better not.  Initially it smells very crisp and floral, with light “watery” fruits (pears, guavas, even watermelon), and then segues gently into something more creamy.  Actually the aroma moves into heavier syrup-from-tinned-peaches territory after a while, but is redeemed from cloying heaviness by remaining reasonably light, adding some brine and genteel gone-to-seed flower gardens with too much earth.  Some traces of toffee, tobacco, maybe a flirt of cinnamon.  Gone too fast, alas.

Palate – What just happened here? Was that licorice, medicinals and plasticene I tasted?  Indeed it was. Just as suddenly, it went limp again, but after standing for a while, with some effort, I could make out additional flavours of green peas (!!), apple juice, vanilla, nutmeg, caramel, cardamon…and some bitterness of over-zealous application of the barrel.  Good potential, but ultimately unsatisfying and again, this being the era of 40%, really not intense enough, while interesting in its own way.

Finish – Well done, reasonably long for the strength.  Cigar smoke, brine, some last herbal notes and a couple of olives.  Dry and dirty and quite pleasant.

Thoughts – Nose and finish are the best part of the experience, with some nice points on the palate.  Not as anonymous and boring as the Bacardis, yet lacks punch in its own way; and even though it may be churlish to grumble about the way rums were made back then, a few extra points of proof would have gone a long way to raising the labial volume to something higher.

(80/100)

Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found on the website.

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #032 | 0432

Over and above the skimpy details of the company provided in the notes written for the Carta Oro (Rumaniacs-031) there’s nothing new here, except to note that this rum is definitely better, and I enjoyed it a lot more.  So let’s dive right in and be briefer than usual

Nose – Very Spanish in its lightness.  Cornflakes, cereal, lemon peel, vanilla and salted butter come to the fore.  It’s a little spicy and tart for 40%, something like a lemon meringue pie, very nice actually, if a little gentle. Opens up to smoke and leather after some time.

Palate – I’ve moved away somewhat from the Latin style, but no fault to be found here.  Orange marmalade, a little caramel and coffee grounds and white chocolate, and with water there is a whiff of licorice, toffee, more vanilla, leavened by sharper fruits such as ginnips, red currants, red guavas…that kind of thing.  Really a very nice rum.

Finish – Short and delicious, quite light and crisp, with more tart fruity notes and some smoke and very faint licorice and orange peel.

Thoughts – I have no idea how aged this rum is – I suspect five to ten years.  Whatever the case, it’s a most enjoyable dram.  Probably out of all our price ranges at this point, if a bottle could even be found whose provenance one can trust. With the opening of the American market to Cuban products, we can expect to see a lot of rums many have never tried before from companies that will surge to the fore but which until now remain relatively obscure. I really look forward to that.

(84/100)

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #031 | 0431

This is a Cuban rum from a company that still exists in Santiago de Cuba and now called Ron Caney: the holding company was (and may still be) called Combinado de Bebidas de Santiago de Cuba and was supposedly formed around 1862…however, it is also noted to be operating out of a former Bacardi factory, so my take is that it’s using expropriated facilities, which is confirmed by Tom Gjelten’s book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba.  This rum is from the late 1960s or early 1970s, is also known as “Gold,” and for sure is no longer in production, though modern and aged variants do of course exist (the Ultimate Rum Guide has a list for the curious). The export version is the Havana Club marque from Cuba.

Picture here taken from ebay and I’m unclear if it’s the same one as what I was tasting.  The actual bottle pic for the sample in my possession is very low res, but shown below.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Soft citronella notes, flowers, relatively uncomplex, but laid back, light and quite clean.  Some cream pie and vanilla.

Palate – Sharp, clean and light, a little aggressive in a way the nose didn’t mention. Started off with a faint medicine-y taste which is far from unpleasant. Some salted caramel and cream cheese. Salty brine and olives, citrus peel, balsamic vinegar and cheese-stuffed peppers.  Maybe I got a dud sample that oxidized too much, ’cause it sure didn’t taste like a normal Cuban.  Still – not entirely a write-off.

Finish – Short, sharp, mostly lemon peel and some candied oranges.

Thoughts – Probably a very young rum. If one can find a bottle, it’s probably worth more for historical value than to actually drink it

(78/100)

Jul 032016
 

Lost Spirits Cuban 1

Not quite there.  Yet.

(#283 / 83/100)

***

Lost Spirits, if you recall, is the company that produced a set of rums of varying strengths last year – polynesian, navy, colonial, and this one – which are processed by their proprietary “reactor” to emulate the taste profile of rums aged for many years, while only being days old.  This is one of the three I bought, the “Cuban Inspired” version, bottled at a growlingly powerful 75.5% and properly labelled “151”.  151s are generally mixers (unlike, say, the SMWS beefcakes), which strikes me as an odd choice to produce – because if one is trying to showcase the ageing potential of the reactor, why make a rum that people have never seen as an aged product? Perhaps it is to try and recreate the taste markers of the style as well – if that’s what was attempted, I stand here before you telling you that the system still needs more work.

That said, let’s just get the stats and background out of the way: the Cuban Inspired is made from baking grade molasses — much like, I guess, Pritchards’ — water and yeast, some interesting tricks with nitrogen deprivation, no additives or colouring, some ageing in charred and toasted American oak barrels, and filtration through a coconut husk filter. So as 151s go, something of a diversion.  I was therefore quite curious whether a Cuban-style profile could be made via technology instead of actually in Cuba.

The light bronze rum nosed quite kinetically, of course, which at that strength was to be expected. Sharp, hot scents of brine, figs, olive oil and tequila led things off with some of the waxy, glue and petrol notes of some serious pot still action.  I set it aside to let the spicy alcohol fumes evaporate, and when I went back to it ten minutes later, things settled down a bit and the scents were much more interesting: huge molasses and burnt sugar, cocoa and vanilla notes were the backbone, upon which rested a sharper, less intense secondary aromas of coarse dry breakfast cereal and stale orange peel that’s been sitting in the sun for too long. Interesting and quite intriguing, for sure, though there’s something lacking here, a sort of middle section to bridge the gap between the sharp higher notes and the deeper and more solid underpinnings.

Putting aside the sheer oomph of this thing – for sure, given its intensity at that strength, I sipped very carefully – I was surprised how much there was on the palate: molasses soaked brown sugar, butterscotch (way too much of these three elements), salt butter, fresh baked dark russian bread (I used to buy one daily for a year straight back in my working days in the ‘Stans).  Too hot and untamed to sip really well, it was damned rough on the tongue.  With water, matters settled down, and additional flavours of overripe plums and peaches, more tequila and olives in brine emerged, weirdly mixed with hot black tea and yes, that stale orange peel made a comeback, all finishing off with a very long exit as befits an overproof, and last hints of wood and sawdust and an old, lovingly polished leather bag.

Lost Spirits Cuban 2So there’s the tasting notes.  Opinion? Well, it has quite a lot of action, that’s for sure.They sort of whirl around in a melee of unfocussed aggression, like a war-movie battle scene where the director is too much in love with his shaky-cam, making nonsense of any attempt to come to grips with an underlying structure.  Tastes just exist, and they do not come together in any kind of layering or synthesis, and where each one should be informing, supporting and melding with others, here what we have is a bunch of rabid individualists who do not know the meaning of teamwork. And honestly, there’s over-dominance by molasses and vanilla and butterscotch – it’s deep and it’s nice and it’s pervasive…perhaps too much so.

Plus – where’s the Cuban by which it was supposedly inspired? I’ve had a few from the island in my time, and the Spanish style, which so many in Central and South American rum-makers have copied over the centuries, was not particularly self-evident in this rum.  Usually, rectified column still spirit further amended by careful barrel ageing is a defining marker; but I didn’t get any of that clean, dry, light, flowery profile with coy hints of molasses and citrus dancing their own little tango, bound together by easy fruitiness – quite the contrary, this was a rapier turned into a fruit-smeared butterscotch bludgeon, not all of which worked. 

Whether we like it or not, when a rum is labelled as something, we expect from our past experiences of similar rums for the promise implicitly made on that promo to be honoured.  As with the Navy 68% I tried before I didn’t feel that really occurred (I sampled alongside the Navy and the Polynesian, and the Cuban resembled the former quite a bit) .  There’s little of the Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club here, to me. I’m giving it the score I do because of originality, some very interesting tastes, and then taking away some points for lack of coherence (but not for not being a Cuban – that one is an irrelevancy and I mention the matter only because the label does).  I like what Bryan Davis is doing, admire his dedication and passion and love of  technology which he is bringing to bear on a very old process, but still feel the process needs work.  From that perspective, it was real smart to call this a “Cuban Inspired” rum.

***

Other notes

I know this review will be somewhat divisive (it’s not meant to be dismissive), so here are some references to give you more positive points of view, if you’re interested:

Jul 152015
 

C_des_Indes 2

Seems appropriate that I tried and fell in lust with this rum in Paris; it reminded me what the word concupiscent meant.

(#222. 88/100)

***

For every small craft maker that opens its doors and tries to make its mark on the rum world, yet fails to rise to the levels of its own self-proclaimed quality, there’s another that does. I’m going to go out on a limb, and remark that if this one sterling 15 year old Cuban rum (with a 280-bottle-outturn) is anything to go by, Compagnie des Indes is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy.  All of them.

Let’s get the history and background out of the way. The founder of this French company, Mr. Florent Beuchet, drew on his background in the rum and spirits business (his father owns a winery and absinthe distillery, and Mr. Beuchet himself was a brand ambassador in the USA for Banks Rum for a couple of years) to open up a craft shop in 2014.  If Mr. Beuchet was trying to evoke the atmosphere of the long-ago pirate days, he certainly started the right way by naming his company as  he did. I grew up reading the histories of the violent, corrupt, exploitative, semi-colonial powers of the great trading concerns of Europe in the Age of Empires – the British East and West India Companies, the Dutch East India Company, and many others.  So right away we have a whiff of deep blue water, wooden sailing ships with snapping sails and creaking hawsers, and all their noble and happy traditions of rum, buggery and the lash…and we haven’t even cracked the bottle yet.

All the usual suspects are represented in the company’s limited edition bottlings – Guadeloupe, Belize, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica are some examples – but he has also bottled blends like the Latino and the Caraibes (reviewed by my buddy Steve on Rumdiaries, here), plus stuff I can’t wait to get my mitts on, from Fiji and Indonesia.  And then there’s this one, from Sancti Spiritus in Cuba, bottled at 45%.

C_des_Indes 1

The first whiff of nose that greeted me after decanting the straw-brown rum was the raw musky scent of honey still in a beehive.  It was warm, light, aromatic, a pleasure to inhale.  Wax, cinnamon and cloves joined the party, and then it became unexpectedly and slightly dry as it opened up.  After letting it stand for a few minutes, I tried it again, remarked on its clean and clear aroma, and then to my astonishment noticed not only cedar, sawdust straw and smoke…but also mauby, a local (non-alcoholic) drink made from tree bark in the West Indies.

Well now, this I had to get more of, so I went straight into the tasting, and found no disappointment there.  The driness persisted – not unpleasantly – and the rum presented light and clear as the nose had suggested.  It coated the tongue nicely – it was…well, clingy, I suppose (and I mean that in a good way).  There again was that slight bitterness of unsweetened mauby, but also a delicate and slightly sweet floral note. The heavier honey scents were not totally absent, merely hinted at, allowing other flavours to come forward. White guavas, coconut, lavender, some sage even, all tied together by faint mint and tea leaves crushed between the fingers. The finish was excellent – not long, fruity and floral at once, smooth and heated, leaving me not only without any complaints, but hastening back to the bottle to try some more.

Although I have a thing for darker Demerara rums, a specimen like this one makes me think of throwing that preference right out of the window. I can happily report that the Cuba 15 year old is quietly amazing, one of the best from that island I’ve ever had.  If Descartes was correct about the separable existences of body and soul (supported by Plato, whose Phaedrus was a winding literary excursion arguing for the soul’s immortality) then we might want to apply the concept to this rum.  We’ll drink the thing down and enjoy every sip, and then it’ll be gone, but forget it we never will.  Rums aren’t humans, of course, and have a shelf life usually measured in months, not decades….perhaps their continuance in our memories and affections is the only real immortality to which such a transient substance can aspire. In this case, rightfully so.

Other notes

Mr. Beuchet remarks that with certain clearly stated exceptions, he adds noting to his rums, nor does he buy stock that has been adulterated in any way.  Where such additions take place, he notes it up front. Like with Velier, his labels are quite informative (if not quite as stark).

The rum is two months shy of sixteen years old (distilled July 1998, bottled May 2014).

 

May 042013
 

D7K_1299

Not quite a rum, but close to a spiced or flavoured agricole, and a delicious drink for all that. Big hat-tip to Tony for this one and all the others.

(#159. 79/100)

***

For those who believe Cuba makes only rums, here’s a flavoured spirit close to being one without actually stating it is. It defies easy categorization, which is perhaps why it doesn’t, even on the label, say anything about what it supposedly is (a rum with additives for taste). The issue may be its source, which is variously noted as being either a cane spirit or a guava-based distillate (it’s actually a bit of both). Like the Thai Mekhong, Czech Tuzemak or Austrian Stroh, it’s close to meeting all the requirements, but isn’t, quite. Which doesn’t make it a bad drink, just an intriguing one, and for the purposes of this review, I’ll call it a rum, ‘cause, you know, what the hell. It’s kissing close, and I’m not a total purist in these matters.

What distinguished this product from the Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba to me, was its overall profile. The hay-blonde spirit immediately gave off scents of herbal lemon grass and white guavas, sugar cane peel torn off the stalk with the teeth. Sweet, soft, almost thick, and vaguely perfumed – and none of this was in any way cloying or reeking of an overenthusiastic blender’s machismo either, just harmoniously balanced. To say I was startled is an understatement. Tony (he of the famous 151 proof rumballs) brought this back from Cuba – on a whim, I suspect, just because it looked so different – didn’t know much about it, but having opened it, he loved it and brought it over for us to check out in more detail.

The body and palate were a bit heated (the liquor was 40%, so some spiciness could be expected); what really was fine about it was the mouthfeel, almost silky, decently smooth and very easygoing. One could not get away from the guavas and the sweetness of almost-ripe, fleshy fruit (pears, not peaches), and here again I must stress how well put together the overall product was – there was no real excess sugar or flavoured overkill here, the way you would find in a liqueur, just a delicate balance between competing tastes of nuts, white toblerone, a flirt of vanilla and maybe some more of that raw sugar cane sap. Finish was gentle and medium long – I got less from the aromas than a lingering taste on the tongue, another thing I quite liked.

The outfit that makes this spirit – Sociedad L. Garay y Compañía – has been in operation since 1892, though I was unable to find out how it weathered the Cuban revolution. It seems to run on a semi-privatized basis these days. From what I was able to gather on the various Spanish-language websites I visited, the spirit is made by mixing a large quantity of the macerated guavas with a cane-derived alcoholic base, and the resultant mixture allowed to marry for about a month before being drawn off and aged in oak barrels for a further three months (for the dry “seca” version…two months is considered good enough for the sweet “dulce”).

D7K_1300

So an aged product it is not. But you know, some time back I wrote a positive review of the Hawaiian Kōloa rum which had not been aged at all yet still presented itself well as a rum, and Nine Leaves out of Japan does something similar with their “Clear” rum. This little-known almost-rum from Cuba, flavoured and sweet as it is, is a pleasant sipping product to have after dinner (or before it), something to savour with a nice tropical sundown. Don’t look for massive complexity – it’s not that kind of drink – but just enjoy it without fanfare, over ice, and share generously with your friends if that’s their thing, making sure you explain its origin and source materials before they ask the inevitable. Me, I see this as a farmer’s rum, a country rum, similar to backdam hooch my friends and I used to distil out of rice and sugar in the old days, and flavour with whatever fruits were on hand. The Seca reviewed here is made much more professionally than what we did, but the principle remains the same.

And if you haven’t been aware of it before, well, it’s so damned cheap in Cuba that you can’t go wrong with dropping five bucks and at least trying it. Everyone’s heard about Havana Club and the other big brands out of the island…here’s one it’s worth your while to check out, even if you, like me, may be a bit amused, bemused and confused on the question of whether it’s a rum at all.

 

 

May 022013
 

D7K_1292

Parts of this rum succeed swimmingly, others less so.

(#158. 83/100)

***

This was the second of two rums brought over some days ago, by my squaddie Tony – he of the famous 151 proof rumballs guaranteed to lay you out flat under the table in labba time. I remember having about four of these alcoholic grenades a few years back, and then having a serious and lengthy conversation with a doorpost for the next ten minutes, thinking it was the Hippie. Tony had the good fortune to visit Cuba recently, and being one of the few Caners in the whole province (he claims to have seen a few others of our near-mythical breed in occasional flyspeck watering holes, though this may be mere rumour), he brought back both this rum and the 12 year old Santiago de Cuba I looked at before.

So what to say about this one? Well, first of all, it’s not of a level quite comparable to the sterling 12 year old mentioned above, but it reminded me a lot of another Cuban rum I reviewed some months before, the Ron Palma Mulata de Cuba, which I didn’t care for all that much in spite of its also being aged twelve years. After doing some research, it came as no surprise that the same company made them both – Technoazucar. The company website barely makes mention of this rum beyond some technical details, which I find an odd omission.

Secondly, the Vigia is made from sugar syrup, not molasses, which may account for something of its lighter, vegetal nose (the title of the rum comes from Hemmingway’s residence in San Francisco de Paula, Havana). Be that as it may, the mahogany rum did indeed have a rather herbal tang to it: dry, spicy, with hints of lemon grass, orange zest, dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Not aloofly astringent like Professor McGonnagal, more like, oh Professor Spout – plumper, more inviting, pleasantly earthy and absolutely no-nonsense. I thought that nose was the best thing about this product, though the taste wasn’t much behind.

The palate morphed from the aforementioned grassy notes to something quite different – a touch of red grapes and wine surrounding the caramel and burnt sugar core. A floral background of white blossoms stole gently around these aromas, and the mouthfeel was pleasant, without drama or overacting of any kind. Not all that smooth, but not overly spicy either – it was quite a difference from the Mulata, and closer in profile to (if lighter than) the Santiago de Cuba. Certainly it was sweeter than either, I should note, just not enough to be either cloying or offensive. A medium long, none-too-special exit redolent of caramel and flowery notes, plus some crushed walnuts, light smoke and leather, rounded off the overall profile.

So, the nose was pretty decent, the palate almost as excellent and the finish just meh. The Vigia was, to my mind, a youngish rum (five to seven years, I judge), one to mix in a nice daiquiri perhaps, or that old standby, the Libre. Some of my ambivalence comes from me seeing it as an agricole, not so much a molasses based product, and while I have great admiration for such rums when properly made (such as in the French Caribbean Islands), here it just seems that they wanted to produce a mid-tier rum without too much additional effort, saved their love for more top tier products, and let it go as it was.

Which is strange because it’s better than the Mulata 12 year old even without that extra care and attention. How odd is that?.

 

Apr 252013
 

D7K_1288

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

(#157. 86/100)

 ***

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

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

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

D7K_1290

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

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

D7K_1285

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

 

Mar 302013
 

Great noser, lackluster on the palate, and all-over unusually light. I think of this as an agricole, more than a “real” Cuban rum.

(#139. 84/100)

***

I’ve said before that Renegade’s series of rums are occasionally squirrelly – some are pretty cool, like the St Lucia variant, while others strive for greatness and stumble at the end, like the Grenada or the Guyana 16 year old. But in few other editions of the series, is that periodically discombobulated nature more on display than in the Cuba 1998 11 year old, which was not only a leap away from what might loosely be interpreted as a Cuban rum profile, but is actually a bound over the skyscrapers of rum taste that might conceivably make Superman shred his cape in rage (assuming he drinks the stuff).

The Renegade Cuba 1998 11 year old rum is a non chill-filtered, limited bottling of 1800 bottles, originally distilled in 1998 in the Paraiso distillery in Sancti Spiritus in Cuba and matured for 11 years in white oak bourbon barrels, and then finished in Amarone casks. The founding family of the Paraiso distillery, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the Central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus (which was also near to the original Bacardi distillery). In 1946 the Paraiso Distillery was created and in 1951, the Tuinucú Sugar Company was consolidated into both plantation and distillery operations. Poor timing, if you ask me, since the revolutionary Government took over the entire kit and kaboodle not long after and has run the show ever since.

What the hell is this thing? I wondered, as I poured myself a glass of this bright amber spirit. Yes it had been finished in Amarone casks – this is a rich and somewhat dry Italian red wine – yet what I was getting was less red than white, cheekily light and flowery, with notes of cinnamon, marzipan, juniper, jasmine and light caramel (this last almost imperceptible). In fine, it had the aromatic nature of the perfume department at HBC at Christmas, and French perfumes redolent of the fields of Provence in the summer time. Gradually, as it opened up, slight leathery hints, maybe sandalwood, stole coyly around the others. A wonderful, if very unusual, nose, and I spent a lot of time enjoying it.

All this changed on the palate, which had these light perfumes degenerate into a chemical plastic that was – after that almost delicate nose – as shocking as a kick to the rubs. at 46% I couldn’t avoid some heat there, not too bad and medium-to-light-bodied, not so much smooth as clean. Briny, salty, vegetal and herbal, this thing was more in the dry, straw-like nature of (get this) a tequila. Apples almost beginning to go and some dry fruits mellowed slowly into the weirdness of Joaquin Phoenix with a beard on Letterman, and I can’t say it impressed me much. The finish was spicy, herbal (again those green apples beginning to end their shelf life had their moment) and medium long, but was marginally redeemed by the zestiness of those perfume notes stealing back for one last hurrah. The rum as a whole was perky, then morose and then zippy all over again, like it needed a serious dose of lithium to get it on an even keel. The best part of it, I judge, was the nose, which really was quite spectacular. But overall, as I noted above…squirrelly. This may be because some of the products of this distillery which are sold in Europe, are actually agricoles (made from sugar cane juice, not molasses), but this is an educated conjecture on my part….there’s nothing in my research about this rum for me to say that with assurance.

I want to be clear that on the whole, I respect and admire Renegade’s lineup and my 84 score here reflects aspects of the quality of this particular rum which is undeniable. It was the first of the European series I’ve really made a dent in (Rum Nation is the other, and I have hopes for the Secret Treasures, Cadenheads and Plantations). For sure it’s a boutique set of rums, taking its cue from the various finished whiskies that launched the fashion many years ago. Perhaps there’s where the issue lies – I say they’re inconsistent, but maybe they’re just not made the way a major rum distiller would, but in the fashion of, and for a palate to please, a whisky maker. And as a result, the end product veers away from a profile which a person who is used to Caribbean tipple would prefer — or is accustomed to — his drink to be.

I’ve been asked many times, and see many posts on the Ministry of Rum about “Which rums are good?”, or variations on “Where does one begin to start in a rum appreciation journey?” – I’d hesitate to tell any such curious individual to begin with the Renegade rums, any of them, because of this dichotomy. Most of the Renegades are excellent products, some spectacular, some more “meh,” and all are interesting – but occasionally one comes across a wonky off-side spinner like this Cuban rum which, at end, only a die hard rum fanatic – or a mother – could truly love.

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