Apr 102017
 

#355

Back in 2015 I wrote about the Ron Maja 12 year old rum which purported to be from El Salvador based on the place of origin of the family behind it, but really wasn’t when one considered the location of the production process.  Here’s another one from that country, which earns its geographical appellation somewhat more, though overall, there isn’t much more to it than its cousin.

The dark gold Cihuatán is a molasses-based 40% Salvadorean rum aged in white oak ex-bourbon barrels, with the base distillate going into the 5-layer solera system in 2004 for eight years – that does not make it an eight year old rum, of course, just a rum with components up to eight years old inside it.  It is made by Licorera Cihuatan, itself a subsidiary of Ingenio La Cabaña, one of the larger sugar concerns in the country (it was established in around 1920).  It is a diversified company located north of San Salvador, and its main business is based on a sugar cane plantation, a sugar mill and a modern alcohol plant (built in 1999) with a multi-column still that produces various alcohols and liqueurs for both the leisure and industrial market.  Sometime in the early 2000s the company wanted to ride the wave of rum’s resurgence as a premium drink and initiated their own brand, consulting with Luis Ayala (publisher of Got Rum? magazine) in the process.  What came out the other end and hit the shelves in 2015 — mostly locally and in Europe — was this rum, which adheres to all the markers of a mid-tier solera without trying to reinvent the wheel.

I’m not making a case for there to be something fantastically original about any new rum to hit the market, of course, and one cannot expect that from a solera in any case.  Yet even by those standards, this was a remarkably quiet rum. There were no out-of-left-field smells emanating from the glass after the initial pour.  No arrogant or aggressive fumes of pungency and power.  No cask-strength olfactory bruising, simply a warm nose redolent of cherries, plums, some light florals, a touch of leather and somewhat of an excess of vanilla; plus, after some minutes, some oaken tannins. Nothing to write home about – rather simple, actually.

That impression continued with the taste, mild and pleasant though it was – initially it was simply too sweet, and the vanilla was too much in the forefront.  Some cocoa powder, coffee grounds stayed in the background, leaving the vanilla to duke it out with cherries and more plums, sugar cane sap and a touch of citrus, however indistinct it might have been.  As I’ve remarked on several soleras before now, they tend to be more sweet than the norm, and much lighter, though with a good one there’s always some edge to the experience, with sharper citrus and fruity notes that ameliorate the saccharine.  Here this was not the case, and even with water not much more could be picked it out, and so it all led to a soft and warm exit, with some floral notes rejoining the vanilla party.

All right, so I appreciate that it’s a solera (with all that this implies) and it may have some eight year old in it, and it may be part of the revival of rum production in the country (a laudable effort, as I remarked in a comment on the Maja).  But for me it needs some more work. Vanilla too much, sweet could be toned down, the overall gentleness could maybe be tarted up a touch.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine and easy rum with a decent, if uncomplicated palate – it reminds me of the Travellers rums, or Panamanians in general, or of a low rent Panamonte. Which might be why it didn’t make any kind of worldwide splash outside the festival and awards circuit.

In the first three years or so of reviewing rums, I started out with the commonly available, easygoing forty percent rums, which included quite a few soleras, and back then I liked them quite a bit.  Nowadays I think they’re good for lovers of easier fare (or of Spanish style rons) who either can’t get or simply don’t like rums of cask strength aggressiveness.  On that basis, this one works fine…if without flair. If you want a relaxing drink to have around a campfire somewhere, or to unwind after a bad day at the office, a soft, relatively uncomplex rum like this would be just right.  That may be why – much like with the Maja — I’ll take one if offered, but would prefer to save my dinero for its slightly older cousin, the 12 year solera when it comes out.

(80/100)

Other notes

  • The title Cihuatán comes from the name of an ancient Mayan settlement – it’s an archaeological site now — that once existed very close to where the distillery is currently located.  It translates into “next to the woman”, referring to a mountain nearby which looks like a sleeping woman in silhouette
  • The glyph on the label represents Tlaloc, the Mayan god of water
  • The 12 year solera variation, if also made from the 2004 distillate, should be widely available from 2017. My fellow rum chum Paul Senft of RumJourney told me that is is currently available in the USA and the company later confirmed that it is for sale in Europe and El Salvador as well.
  • After I sent some inquiries their way, Cihuatán responded with the following notes: small quantities of brown sugar from their mill are added to the batches in order to maintain consistency on an as-required basis (not as part of a deliberate sweetening strategy); multi-column still, not single as I had originally written (post updated for this fact); and they are working on limited single-barrel editions to be issued in the future.
Mar 182015
 
D3S_8975

Not my best rum photo ever: I had set the shutter speed too slow…

 

This is definitely a rum to chillax with. A solid, relaxed and very pleasant Salvadorean rum which should be given some attention…even if it’s actually from Panama.

(#207. 83/100)

***

Assume you were a new outfit in a country A and were making a new rum whose brand was once owned and which was once made, by your family; you sourced distillate from another country, B; used that country B’s facilities to make and age the finished product; and hired a Master Blender, also from that B country.  Now, the question is, whose rum is it? A or B? This is not nearly as academic an exercise as it seems, because Ron Maya purports to be a rum from El Salvador, yet the sugar cane and distillate hail from Panama, the rum is aged in Panama, and the ‘recipe’ for the final blend comes courtesy of Don Pancho Fernandez, also associated with the Panamanian industry.

When I ran across the rum at the Berlin 2014 Rum Festival (where it won a Bronze medal for 11-14 year old rums), the company representative was quite clear about the matter without any prompting. She told me frankly that the purpose of making both this product and its younger 8-year old sibling (also an award winner in Madrid in 2014), was to kickstart a long-dormant rum industry in El Salvador generally, and for the family that owned the brand specifically. The issue is not entirely without precedent – for example, Pyrat’s no longer has much, if anything, to do with Anguilla, St Nicholas Abbey sourced its original stocks  from FourSquare, and many Caribbean Islands’ companies buy molasses from Guyana…and you sure never see that anywhere on various labels. (My opinion is below).

That out of the way, what are we to make of the twelve year old rum aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and issued at a soothing unaggressive 40%? It was housed in a squat green bottle, decent plastic tipped cork, and marked with a bare minimum of information on the label – including that “El Salvador” moniker – and poured out in a bright golden liquid. It smelled like what it was, a soft, easy-going, medium-bodied rum, with vanillas, some brown sugar and coconut politely jostling for my attention. There was no aggressiveness at all here, and my initial opinion was that it was a good all-rounder: it could just as easily be a mixer, had neat, or over ice for those who preferred it that way. Still, given its rather gentle aroma, I’m not sure how much any mix would add to its value…a cola or ginger beer might just shred the thing.

Things got rather more assertive as I tasted it (and I went back to it twice that day when no-one was looking just to confirm my initial impressions) – the lightness of the nose gave way to a taste that was more solid.  Soft fleshy fruits, vanilla, a flirt of citrus were in evidence, followed by peaches and ripe apples and smoke.  And again that hint of lemon zest and perhaps even a bit of ginger, for a fillip of complexity. It was very Panamanian, or Latin if you wish – there were aspects of it that reminded me of similarly serene Peruvian and Colombian rums I’ve had, and could be confused with an Abuelo 12 (which was heavier), Juan Santos 12 (a shade lighter), or even Rum Nation’s 18 year old (a bit more complex).  The finish was smooth, warm and quite docile, providing pleasant reminders of what had gone before it.

Maja is trying to jump start an indigenous rum industry, and have created a very good rum from stocks which have all been aged twelve years (it’s not a blend of various ages).  To do this properly, what they have to do is grab some market share from more established companies, and hew to the standard proof line. My own feelings on 40% are not new: still, putting aside such a personal predilection, I believe that the Ron Maja 12 year old is a solid mid-tier rum whose great strength will be its overall delectability and versatility, if not true passion (it’s really not the kind of rum that inspires solo trans-Atlantic voyages in a bathtub, for example, or grandly-declaimed love from the rooftops by misguided lovelorn swains).

It’s simply good, and what it brings to the table is accessibility (many will really enjoy its laid-back profile), overall quality, and lack of in-your-face bite.  It’s a well-made, smooth and warm drink, with enough going on within that you’ll never doubt that it still remembers it’s a rum. And at 40% and €45 per bottle, you really won’t have a problem drinking it neat, which for me is a pretty good recommendation.

Other notes:

  • The Rumporter online magazine has a small article on this rum here, in French.

http://www.rumporter.com/fr/magazines/numero-3

  • I have an outstanding email in play to Ron Maja, where they promised to get back on to me regarding more history and background; when received, I’ll update this post.

Opinion

While appreciating the logistics and other problems Maja no doubt has undergone in bringing its product to market, I am going on record as disapproving of the labeling exercise – it ignores the reality of what this rum really is, and touches on larger issues of truth in advertising and presentation. The founding family and originator of Ron Maja is from El Salvador – is this enough to make it a Salvadorean rum when everything that comprises it except the owners, is from somewhere else?

For this to be presented as being what it supposedly is, I believe that some part of the production process has to be in El Salvador (like the Islands mentioned above have ageing and blending facilities in their territories, or St Nick’s is aged and bottled at the Abbey).  The cane, the molasses, the distillation or the bottling…something.  This may just be a fig leaf to add that touch of respectability or verisimilitude, but it would give consumers a better idea of what it is they are getting for their money.

Update March 2015 – According to the company, the recipe used to assemble the rum was developed by the family, and this is the source of stating it is Salvadorean.

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