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

Apr 072013


38% weakling, of pleasant taste approaching real complexity, but with no real assertiveness.

(#153. 80.5/100)


Originating in the Dominican Republic (home of the Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo brands), the Opthimus 18 artestinal rum is a solera rum, quite good, but too weak for me. It’s made, like the excellent Solera 25 whisky-finished version, by the firm of Oliver and Oliver, a company in existence since the mid 19th century and founded by the Cuban family of Juanillo Oliver, a Catalan/Mallorcan emigre. Abandoning Cuba in 1959, members of the family re-established the company in the early nineties in the DR after finding the supposed original recipe for their forebears’ rum. They also produce the Opthimus 15 (which may be the best of the lot simply because it is a shade younger and has therefore not been smoothened out so much as to eviscerate its more complex nature). The 18 I tasted was bottle 4 of 316 in the 2011 production run, and cost €65 for the 500ml bottle pictured above.

The 18 twitches all too feebly. The nose, in spite of the rum’s relatively weak knees, did try its best to kick a bit, and evinced notes of cinnamon and breakfast spices, together with a faintly musty air, like biscuits and straw; a vegetal sort of nose, deepening gradually into caramel and burnt sugar notes. Quite gentle, all in all, with no heat or burn to turn one off, yet also lacking in a strong kind of aroma that would have made it score more highly.Want to know why I disdain underpfoof rums? Look no further, as this is a good example of the thinness and overall wussiness I don’t care for in rums (but full disclosure – my preferences run more to beefcakes greater than 40% these days, so your mileage may vary)..

The palate offered no real redemption. What struck me as sad about it was simply that while it tasted pretty good, had a scintillating background complexity that strove to emerge and recall the potential of both the 25 and the 15, it was too scrawny on the body and too weak on the taste buds to really tug at the senses; and therefore it could not offer a strong, assertive profile that would have made me appreciate it more. Caramel, sweet brown sugar, bananas and softer, riper fleshy fruits, some nutmeg and cinnamon and lemon grass, quite faint. Finish was short, aromatic, but like a one night stand, gave too little and was gone too quickly, taking your hard earned money with it.


Opthimus 18 is aged by ex-Cuban master blenders via a solera process for eighteen years in total (so the oldest part of the blend will be that old, not the youngest). Oliver & Oliver uses rum stocks bought elsewhere, and ages them in oak barrels prior to final issue: they also have brands like Cubaney, Quohrum and Unhiq in the stable, though I have yet to try any of them, and they act as third part blenders to other companies as well. Given the plaudits they’ve received from other reviewers, all I can conclude that this is the runt of the litter, and somewhat of an aberration.

Summing up, a rum like this leaves me with too little. Those of you who bemoan my verbosity and essays that never end will love this one, because beyond the bare bones tasting notes, and my personal opinion, there’s not much I can give you. This solera rum shows all the evidence of being well made and well crafted, yet sinks itself at the end by not having the strength to go with its potential. In essence, then, this is an Opthimus that has yet to develop into a Prime.


 In this case, drinking it neat is recommended, it’s good enough for that. My relatively low score reflects a dissatisfaction with intensity and firmness of the tasting elements.



Mar 302013


A liquid, light peanut butter and jelly sandwich, heightened with unsweetened chocolate and displaying enormous smoothness and quality. Great product.

(#151. 88/100)


Ron Abuelo Centuria is the top of the line Panamanian rum originating from Varela Hermanos, the outfit that brought the 7 year old and 12 year old to the table, issued in late 2010 to celebrate their Centennial.

It’s said in some places to be solera-system-aged for thirty years in used bourbon barrels and in others that the blend of rums (some aged thirty years) was run through a solera: but one must always keep in mind that in any solera rum, only a small fraction of the resultant is actually that old (the math suggests it can be as little as 5% after less than ten years, and the average age of the blend trends towards seven). I make these remarks not to denigrate the product, just to inject some caution into pronouncements regarding its age.

Not that you need to know all that, because taken by itself, this is quite a product. Ensconced in a wooden and cardboard box, in a neat bottle with a decent cork, there’s very little about it that doesn’t work. Except maybe the €155 price tag: considering that only 3000 bottles were made, this may be deemed cheap to some lucky fellows who have more money than I do.

Nose first: cherries, dark chocolate, coffee, walnuts and vanilla came right out of the initial pour of the bronze mahogany liquid. Really quite nice, but I suspect there may be some alien DNA in the Centuria somewhere, because after moving on and settling into a creamy, deep burnt sugar and caramel bedrock, there were some discordant background notes that melded uneasily with the core scents so well begun: salt biscuits and a certain musty driness (without being particularly arid) that just seemed, I dunno, out of place. It wasn’t enough to sink the Bismarck, but it wasn’t expected either.


The rum raised the bar for premiums by being phenomenally smooth, mind you. Bitch and bite were long forgotten dreams on the palate, as on the nose: the Centuria may lack the furious, focussed accelerative aggro of a Porsche, but that isn’t its purpose (especially not at 40% ABV) — it’s more a fully tricked-out Audi sedan, as smooth and deceptive as proverbially still waters. Caramel, nougat and burnt sugar flavours led in, followed by a slow segue into a combined smoky, salt/sweet set of tastes reminding one of pecans and dried fruits like dates and figs, not fleshier ones like peaches. In fact, this became so pronounced as to almost dismember the sweeter notes altogether (but not quite,which is to its real credit – great balance of the competing flavours was evident here).

The exit is more problematic: though quite long for a rum bottled at standard strength, there’s something of that buttery caramel salty-sweet tang that doesn’t quite click for me. Yes it was pleasantly heated and took its time saying adios, which is fine — I just didn’t care for the musky, flavours so remniscent of a peanut-butter-and-chocolate energy bar. I should hasten to add this is a personal thing for me, so you may like this aspect much more than I do. And I can’t lie – it’s a damned fine rum, a more-than-pleasant fireplace drink on a nippy night, leading to deep kisses and warm embraces from someone you’ve loved for a very long time.


I often make mention, with top end rums that cost three figures and up, about elements of character. What I mean by this is that the complexity of the parts should lead to a harmonious commingling of the whole in a way that doesn’t repeat old profiles, but intriguingly, fascinatingly, joyously seeks a new tier of its own, for better or worse. The Centuria has character for sure, and what that does is make it different, albeit in a manner that may polarize opinion, especially at the aforementioned back end.

Still, this rum would have, as many overpaid management types in my company would say, all the key performance indicators identified, the drivers nailed down and quantified, all the basic boxes ticked. But then there’s the fuzzier stuff, the weird stuff, the stuff that some guys would call “over and beyond” or “elevated performance”, boldly going where no executive has gone before. In this Anniversary edition rum made by a solid company with quite a pedigree, it’s clear that they’ve succeeded (all my bitching about the off-notes aside). This is an excellent sipping rum where components come together really well, are dead serious about their task of pleasing you, and have taken time out to address some real complex subtleties. This is not the best rum of its kind ever made – my own preference on the Panamanians edges more perhaps towards the Rum Nation Panama 21 — but if you’re buying what Varela Hermanos is selling, they sure won’t short change you.


Other notes

The business about the Centennial is somewhat confusing: Varela Hermanos traces its origins back to 1908 when Don José Varela Blanco founded the Ingenio San Isidro sugar mill, the first in Panama, with alcohol distillation beginning in 1936. So I’m unclear how this rum was first issued in late 2010 to commemorate a hundred years of operations.

According to online remarks made by others, but not represented on the bottle or its box, the Centuria contains no additives for colouring or flavour.





Mar 302013



A Millonario by another name, and as lovely.

(#150. 88/100)


Soleras as a rule tend toward the smooth and sweet side, and have a rather full body redolent of all sorts of interesting fruity flavours. My maltster friends regard this type of drink the way they would a sherry bomb (or a disrobed virgin, if one desperate enough could be found), with a mixture of hidden liking and puritan disdain. Still, after having had two fairly dry products in as many weeks, perhaps it was time to relax in a perfumed boudoir instead of the sere desert air. And because the Ron Cartavio XO was from Peru and a solera, I tried it together with the Ron Millonario Solera 15 and the Millonario XO which also hail from there, to see how it stacked up.

The Cartavio XO is pretty much the top of the line made by the company and is priced to match . It arrived in a black tin can and had a wooden tipped cork fixed into place by the twisted wire one might look for in a champagne…nice touch. Liked the bottle too…tapering, blocky, rounded shoulders, absolutely minimal design esthetic, and etched in gold (the tin can had most of the info, which was as it should be.



Smelling this was an exercise in repressed romanticism. Luscious is not a word that would be out of place to describe it. Creamy, almost like a mild citrus ice-cream, quite smooth and gentle on the nose. Apricots, cherries, vanilla, with just enough background of oaken tannins to provide some character. These scents mellowed gently into flower blossoms – in spite of its depth, the nose had a certain soft, clean brightness to it, like the skin of a sleepy baby after being freshly washed and powdered. It was without a doubt better than the Solera 15, but interestingly enough, it lacked some of the complex pungency that so elevated the Millonario XO.

The feel on the tongue was similarly rich and pleasant, though perhaps a shade more acerbic than the Millonario, but beyond that, quiet and heavy and quite aromatic. Here again is a rum that takes its time, being in no hustling rush to get the sipping experience over with. At 40%, there wasn’t going to be any aggro, no yobbish pummelling on the palate, and indeed, from that perspective, I wasn’t expecting any. The rum sang of vanilla and fruit (peaches and dried apricots), dark chocolate, sherry, nuts and a very faint vegetal note, all of which solidified into a rich and serene taste close to the fullness of honey (if not quite so thick).

The one thing it is not quite good at is the exit. Medium long, hints of nuts, caramel, a sweet-salt tang, with a closing flirt of nutmeg. Faintly dry, but not unpleasantly so – the fragrant, almost humid rush of closing scents married well with that profile, yet try it against the Millonario and see if it doesn’t quite come up to that standard. Sure it’s solid and has a pleasant finish (some would sigh beatifically and say “awesome”), yet perhaps it is a shade too quiet and polished and does not demonstrate any kind of singular, individualistic character all its own, that said it was a walk-on-water rum – it reminded me more of a liqueur (a very good one, mind), and here I thought there were similarities to other well-made drinks of some age and real quality, like the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old, or the El Dorado 25, which were so well put together that they lost that sense of individuality exemplified by their own younger siblings. A minor issue, but one worth remarking on.



Another point I’d like to make is this: the taste profile of the two XOs is extraordinarily similar. In fact, the two are so close together that I wondered whether Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation didn’t source his rum from Cartavio (for the record, he hedged when asked). It would take real effort to taste them side by side and know right off which was which. I’d say that the Millonario has the upper hand based on a slightly better nose, but in all other respects, these two excellent soleras are on par.

The Cartavio brand of rums was originally made in the coastal town of that name, just north of Lima: sugar cane grows in the area and has been since 1891, though the company was founded in 1929 – this XO is an 80th anniversary edition, quite limited in production. The parent company is Distilerias Unidas SAC, and they use molasses as the raw ingredient combined with a continuous fermentation process, utilizing a John Dore pot still and a continuous still.

Let’s sum up, then. Soft, pungent, all-round lovely, and the taste and palate being the best thing about it. I imagine you can make a cocktail with this rum. What I can’t imagine is why. The Cartavio XO may be among the best examples of passive aggression ever seen in the rum world, because clearly the distillers don’t want you to mix it (and my own take – you shouldn’t).. By the time you hit to the bottom of this baby, you’ll still be scratching your brow, wondering what the hell that last tiny hint of savour actually was. It really is that good.

In fine, this is a rum that is quiet, gentle, and flows without fuss or turmoil to a serene conclusion. It is a rural country stream, chuckling dreamily over rocks and burbling to its destination with no agenda – all it wants is to please, and it succeeds. It lacks the testosterone fury of a full- or overproof rum, and avoids the blandness of more commercial rums that sell by the tanker load: drinking this rum and revelling in its unaggressive and unassuming sophistication is something like loving another repressed person like yourself, dearly…and waiting for the kiss that never quite comes when you want it, but is going to happen, eventually, nevertheless — and be worth the wait when it does.


Other Notes

  1. On the tin enclosure and on the website, Cartavio note that the rum is an 18 year old made in the solera method, aged in white oak barrels (some from Slovenia, how cool is that?) but caution must be exercised in what the age statement really means: is it a blend of rums originating from a solera whose average age is eighteen (unlikely, since the math wouldn’t support that); is it a blend of rums averaging eighteen years which then went into a solera process; is it a solera rum that has been in the process for 18 years (my choice for most likely); or is it a solera blend of rums that was then aged for another eighteen years? I simply can’t get resolution on the matter: and it illustrates the issue with pinpointing the true age of a solera rum. For my money, the oldest part of this blend is eighteen, not the youngest. However, note that Josh Miller in early 2016, remarked in his review of the lineup that there is “no rum younger than 18 years in the blend.” And Matt Pietrek, in a visit to the distillery itself, wrote in December 2015 that it was also a true 18 year old.
  2. According to wikipedia, Cartavio rums are now made in Aruba. I’m unclear whether “made” means “aged”, “bottled” or both. My bottle makes no such mention, by the way.
Mar 302013

Attempts a fine balance, but topples ever so slightly at both beginning and end.

(#144. 83/100)


I had this 40% seventy-dollar Colombian rum after a fiery Indian food-fest served by the January Liquorature host who had selected Rohinton Mistry’s epic book, and really, what was I thinking? – the fiery heat muffled and deadened the taste buds…but it says a lot for Dictador that even under the assault of such tongue-numbing spices, I was still able to appreciate it. And after coming home, I tried it on and off over the next week just to nail down the nuances.

Coffee. Yeah, that’s what the nose led in from, immediately, like Juan Valdez was tapping me on my shoulder: not aggressively so, just…making hisself felt. Hola, amigo. Que tal? The overall balance between this cafe and the brown sugar, toffee, nougat and cinnamon was impressive as all get-out, because what you got was a subtle melody enhanced by additional notes that supported and defined it without overwhelming the thing. Note this, however: I gave it to my snub-snooted and far-too-clever son to sniff, and he pointed out an oddly discordant, and very faint rubbery note, not enough to spoil anything, but sufficient to throw me off. Plus it was smooth and heated (just enough), and though I have gone on record as getting somewhat snooty about 40% rums, here I think that strength was just right.

This is largely because the Dictador 20 is a solera, and made from (rather confusingly named) “sugar cane honey,” according to their website. Sugar cane honey is simply the rendered down juice resulting from pressing the cane, but with sexier, warmer connotations, mostly marketing-derived. Soleras, at least from the several I have tried, are also a bit smoother and sweeter than the norm, hence the perennial favouritism shown to Zacapa 23, Rum Nation 15 and others of their ilk. I’m not sure that making them stronger wouldn’t shred some of their underlying structural frailty – they are bottled at pretty much the correct strength for what they are, I think, though you can take that as just my opinion. Here it worked swimmingly.

The profile was quite professionally workmanlike: unlike the Juan Santos line, which hews to a more subtle palate that you have to work at to dissect, the Dictador was definitely a rum, a smooth and heated one, a shade astringent, just sweet enough (less than most soleras, more than most “standard” rums people mix or drink) and arriving with notes of caramel, some oak spice, nougat again, and nutmeg and cinnamon dusting around the edges. After I had let it rest for a bit, more earthy flavours came out – truffles, dark chocolate, unsweetened cocoa. Quite chewy and solid, actually, coating the tongue like an electric blanket with the voltage turned up. Not the most unusual or intriguing rum I’ve ever tried, no – but among the most solidly-crafted. The fade was perhaps this rum’s weakest point, short and generally lackluster, indolent without malice, leaving behind the memory of toffee, caramel notes, and a last flirt of licorice…but at least it didn’t try to maul me.

The Dictador line of rums includes the 12 (I keep seeing it floating around, but haven’t gotten around to buying it) as well as the XO “Insolent” and XO “Perpetual”, which at the least are intriguingly named…I might wan to try them just for those names alone. The line originates from the aforementioned “honey” which is then distilled partly in copper pot stills, and partly in continuous column stills, and then aged in oak barrels using the solera system – so what you are getting is a product where the oldest part of the blend is 20 years, not the youngest. I should note that I absolutely love the zen of the black bottle: very chic, very stark, impossible to miss on a shelf. The Distileria Colombiana which produces it is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, at Cartagena de Indias, and was formed in 1913 by Don Julio Arango Y Ferro, whose ancestor (the eponymous Dictador) began commercial rum production in the 18th century.

Overall, I like the Dictador, but can’t say I’m entirely won over by it. It’s a straightforward, unadventurous rum that takes itself more seriously than  it should, and gains a lot of brownie points for cool presentation – now, I know I give points for appearance and “how it looks” (and have taken more flak than you would believe for that attitude), but, like with every pretty girl that ever worked with or for me, in any office for the last thirty years, here’s the bottom line: if you can’t do your job professionally and well, your appearance matters not a damn.  So, perhaps this is what it is: the Dictador 20 is not so much brilliant as simply, conservatively solid in its display of rum making fundamentals. It is a well made, well-tasting solera rum that somehow finds a reasonable harmony between its earthy maturity, and the the sweetness and sprightliness of youth, but which misses the boat in overall enjoyment (for me). Over time, familiarity has made me move away from the better known Zacapa 23 and embrace slightly more unusual and less-familiar solera rums: the Dictador 20 may be neither unusual, nor less familiar, but that it is a decent, above-average rum to have on your shelf is beyond question.

What a pity that this isn’t enough to eclipse the other soleras in my collection.


Mar 302013

The lush voluptuousnes of Raphael or Titian, captured in a bottle with a bit of Peruvian sunshine

(#127. 88/100)


Soft. This rum is so soft. It is breezes in the warm tropical twilight, the lap of waves at low tide on a deserted Caribbean island, the first unsure, hesitant and oh-so-sweetly remembered kiss of your timid adolescence. It is your mother’s kitchen on a rainy day, fresh bread baking in the oven. It is a 40% Peruvian piece of magic, and if it costs a shade over a hundred bucks, I can only say that I believe it to be worth every penny. Want a slightly pricey introduction to sipping quality rum that seduces, not assaults? Here it stands.

I asked the question of the Ron Millonario 15 Solera whether that was the best solera in current commercial production, and had to say no, largely on the strength of this one – not because the XO is better: it’s simply as good in a different way. Note that both rums are made in the solera system from a Scottish column still distillate; the 15 is made from a four barrel solera, but the added richness of the XO makes me suspect (like my Edmontonian friend does) that either this is a five barrel system, or they aged it longer somehow. Details remain sparse. The two are almost twins with obscurely opposing characters, and while the 15 is cheaper and therefore better value-to-quality overall, I must concede that on a complete aesthetic, the XO probably has it.

Consider the appearance, which would probably make my departed Maritime friend the Bear weep with happiness: cheap black cardboard cutout that won’t add to the price, embracing a flattened squarish bottle that has handsomely gold etched lettering and a faux-golden tipped cork. It looks just classy enough to not be considered a cheap knockoff aspiring beyond its pedigree.

I should remark right at the outset that the XO is a rum deserving to be savoured, not swilled, because while the nose began just swimmingly – honey, a slight minty zest, mango and papaya and flowers – it only got better as it opened up, adding a delicate green and vegetal background, and subtle aromas of coriander and brown sugar. I tried this in tandem with the Millonario 15 solera and that one was excellent also, but it was eclipsed by the sheer complexity of this baby.

And the taste, nice. Again, gets more complex and interesting as time goes on: right off the bat I was enthused about its gentle, velvety smoothness (not altogether surprising for a 40% solera), and the arrival of white chocolate, buttery, creamy caramel. A shade heated without malice, spicy without bitchiness, which was a perfect offset for the sweet notes that coiled around it. That sounds straightforward enough but tek a chill and wait (as my brother back in Mudland would say). Just like with the nose, further flavours shyly emerge and when I tell you that I got a slight smokiness, old dusty leather, fresh fruit and white flowers all in tandem, you can understand why everyone I’ve ever shared this with sings its praises. I’ve already distributed a bottle or two in tasters over a mere few months (and that’s phenomenal given my hermitlike nature and how few friends I have who like rums). As for the exit, it is excellent, chocolate-like (of the milk kind), smooth, long and departing with a last mischievous fillip of those fruity notes.

In fine, unlike the 15 which began well but simply stayed at that level of excellence, the XO started slowly, built up a head of steam and then gently and powerfully released its character over time. For sure this is not a mixing agent, and it rewards the patient – it gets better as it opens up. I’m not sure a higher proof would improve this marvellously made Peruvian product, and I’m not asking for it to be made so (though I might not object either). It’s great as is…don’t mess with it, except perhaps to dial down the sweet a shade.

If you are a raw, uncompromising Caledonian or his Liquorature acolyte (did someone say “Hippie”?) who likes harsh briny seasalt in your beard and the wind in your face and peat in your cask-strength drink, then the softness and relative sweetness of this rum, harking as it does of sunlight and warmth instead of rocks and northern waves, is definitely not for you. The cask strength whiskies are savagely executed Goyas compared to Ron Millonario’s voluptuous females painted by Raphael and Titian, so it comes down to taste and character and preference. My own take is merely that the makers of Ron Millonario XO Especial, with this lovely rum, have pressed all the right buttons and made all the right incantations in producing a rum that raises the bar of rums in general, and soleras in particular. Yet again.


Note: like most solera rums, this one is sweeter than the average and that may be off-putting to drinkers who prefer a drier, sharper and more ascetic “rum-like” profile. Personal preferences therefore have to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to buy it or not.

Update August 2016

In the years since this review came out — I tried it in 2012 — I’ve taken a lot of flak for my positive assessment of the two Millonarios. Fellow reviewers and members of the general public have excoriated the rum for being loaded – destroyed – with so much sugar as to make it a “candied mess.” I acknowledge their perspective and opinions, but cannot change the review as written, as it truly expressed my thoughts at that time.  Moreover, the complexity I describe is there and cannot be wished away, and if the rum is too sweet for many purists, well, I’ve mentioned that.  About the most I can do at such a remove — short of shelling out for another bottle and trying it — is to suggest that if sweet isn’t your thing, deduct a few points and taste before you buy.

And a note for people now getting into rum: sweet is not a representative of all rums, least of all high end ones.  The practice of adding sugar in any form to rums, to smoothen them out and dampen bite (some say it is to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear), is a long-standing one, but gradually being decried by many who want and prefer a purer drinking experience (Plantation and Rum Nation are two companies which sometimes engage in the practice, which they term “dosing”).  It remains legal in many rum producing nations.  As with most aspects of life, sampling a variety will direct you to where your preferences lie.

Mar 302013

Like Bernadette from “The Big Bang Theory” – sweet, buxom, lovely…but with a slight edge as well. What a lovely, lovely rum. 

(#126. 86/100)


Is this the best solera rum currently in production?

Now there’s a statement guaranteed to raise the blood-pressure of lovers of Opthimus, Cubaney, Dictador, Ron Zacapa, Vizcaya, Cartavio, Santa Teresa or others, and draw hordes of disapproving comments from people who will inevitably and disparagingly ask “Well, how many have you tried, dude?” Making a statement like that is akin to throwing a defenseless Christian virgin into the Roman lion pit, isn’t it?

Soleras are a peculiar subset of rums. Dave Broom gives them scant mention in his book “Rum”, rather casually making them a part of the Spanish, Latin style of rums that are lighter and sweeter than more aggressive leather-and-tobacco Caribbean rums. Yet they are distinct in their own way and make as any rum deriving from cane juice, cane syrup, molasses or to which spices have been added…and they’re getting better all the time.. Soleras are based on the Spanish sherry system, whereby every year a fraction of one barrel’s aged product is moved to another one down the line in strict sequence. The mathematics works out that after many years, assuming no further ageing of the final product, you’re getting a majority of seven to eight year old components, together with fractions of rums much older than that (the Santa Teresa Bicentenario claims there are rums as old as eighty years in its final product, which may be why it sells for over three hundred dollars up here).

The Peruvian 40% rum of Ron Millonario 15 is, without verbose embellishment, luscious. No, really. Issued from Rum Nation’s excellent stable of products, its Toquilla-straw-wrapped appearance alone is worthy of notice – though why such a product should then degrade itself with a tinfoil cap escapes me. When I poured it out, it was amber, almost walnut in colour, and smells of vanilla, hibiscus and lush sugary fruits arose to hug me and say hello. My dog (and sometimes my wife) growls at me when I return after a two day trip somewhere, but this rum will always have my slippers in its mouth, a drink waiting, slobber me with kisses and be happy to see me.

Ron Millonario is a company owned by the founder of Rum Nation: it was no coincidence that the first time I tried this was at the tasting where all the RN products were trotted out. The 15 is made from molasses in Peru and is the product of imported Scottish column stills, and the solera system is American and Slovenian oak barrels in four rows. Depending on how you read the website, they age the oldest part of the blend for fifteen years or the final blend for fifteen years, but truly, I don’t mind which it is, because the resulting taste is superb.

Beautifully smooth. Thick, oily, creamy. A shade spicy, cherries, toffee, bananas, red flowers, all sweet and luscious, dissipating after a bit to be replaced with a tartness right up there with the sharp rejoinders of my friend and colleague Mary B.-H. when faced with inimitable idiocy…and this saved it from becoming just another liqueur, thank God (otherwise I might have been snorting “Pyrat’s!!” into my glass). The 15 deepened and became even warmer and more inviting as it opened up, and quite frankly, the fade is remarkable for something this cheap: long lasting, slightly dry, very smooth, saying a pleasant goodbye with aromas of chocolate and pecans.

My father has often been quite vocal and disapproving of my hedging (he once asked me the same question seven times in order to get a definitive answer, which is either a statement about his persistence or my evasiveness). “Make a stand, dammit!” he would snap. “And live with it.” I thought of him as I wrote this: and so yeah, for all those who have been patiently read this far, let me say it out loud.

The answer to the question at the top of this review is “No”. I must concede this definitive answer not because it’s a poor product, but because I know there are more out there I haven’t sampled, and the XO made by the same company is on par. But my take from my experience, is that it’s without question one of the best soleras I’ve ever tried, the best value for money product of its kind. It’s a worthwhile addition to the cabinet of anyone who is tired of the standard fare, prefers a sweetish, smooth, deceptively complex rum with a shade of attitude…and is getting bored with the more well-known Zacapas of this world.


Update August 2016

In the years since this review came out — I tried it in 2012 — I’ve taken a lot of flak for my positive assessment of the two Millonarios. Fellow reviewers and members of the general public have excoriated this rum and the XO for being loaded – destroyed – with so much sugar as to make them a “candied mess.” I acknowledge their perspective and opinions, but cannot change the review as written, as it truly expressed my thoughts at that time.  Moreover, the profile I describe is there and cannot be wished away, and if the rum is too sweet for many purists, well, I’ve mentioned that.  About the most I can do at such a remove — short of shelling out for another bottle and trying it — is to suggest that if sweet isn’t your thing, deduct a few points and taste before you buy.

And a note for people now getting into rum: sweet is not a representative of all rums, least of all high end ones.  The practice of adding sugar in any form to rums, to smoothen them out and dampen bite (some say it is to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear), is a long-standing one, but gradually being decried by many who want and prefer a purer drinking experience (Plantation and Rum Nation are two companies which sometimes engage in the practice, which they term “dosing”).  It remains legal in many rum producing nations.  As with most aspects of life, sampling a variety will direct you to where your preferences lie.

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