Mar 272013
 

A good, and very pricey ultra-premium solera, the top of the food chain from Santa Teresa A.J. Vollmer in Venezuela.  I’m going to go on record as thinking it’s too much price for too little premium.

(#112 61/100)

***

The  $315 Santa Teresa Bicentenario solera rum is made by the privately owned Venezuelan outfit A. J. Vollmer, who also produce the 1796 rum (also a solera, and about which I was unenthused at the time…it may be due for a revisit).  It’s a rum I have avoided for over two years in spite of its premium cachet, and because of its price.  Every time I’ve tried it (four times to date) it reminds me somewhat of a fellow I once met on my sojourns, who dressed sharply, was educated at an Ivy League university, and was, alas, a bit of a bore. Pricily dressed and well put together…just not that interesting.

The bottle I had was labelled #5820 and given that only about a thousand liters a year are made, and since the product (according to the Spanish edition of Wikipedia and other sources) was introduced in 1996 as part of the company’s bicentennial, you could be forgiven for assuming this one was issued around 2002…but personally I find that doubtful.  KWM only got this batch about two years ago, and I don’t think it’s been mouldering around for eight years prior somewhere else (it remains an unanswered question).  Still, the bottle, however startling (some might say ugly), is distinctive, and while I didn’t have the box it should have come in, pictures I’ve seen suggest it is pretty cool.

Santa Teresa Bicentenario is a solera, and therefore has a whole range of column- and pot-still, aged rum components in it — 80 year old product was noted without any indication of the average age, and the whole blend is aged some fifteen years in oak barrels; as the premium product of its line, it had all the hallmarks of care and love given to it: for the price, could it be otherwise? It was, for all that ageing, still somewhat light in the glass, a darkish golden colour with thin legs running down the sides.  On the nose it presented itself with a light aroma containing citrus, light and white woods, white flowers, pineapple and a slight hint of dark berries in cream, caressing as a baby’s breath on your cheek.


The overall quality on the palate led on from there: soft and gentle, without a hint of the astringency of a stepmother’s ire. It was put together well enough that separating out individual tastes was as tough as analyzing the Juan Santos 21: about the most I was able to discern was vanilla, faint breezes of brown sugar, and a certain overall creaminess. Perhaps blackberries, and that’s reaching. To me it was just a bit too light and delicate (while nowhere near the effeminate nature of the Doorly’s).  And this continued on to the fade, which was long and billowy and lasting, yet so soft that one barely knew it was there at all.

Rating this baby is a bitch. I can tell the work that went into smoothening out the intermarried solera components, and the fifteen years of ageing that blend was well done, because the smoothness is there, as it should be for any premium product.  Yet the Bicentenario failed somehow, perhaps in the flavours being so light and commingled that I had little idea what it was I was tasting beyond the obvious.  In short, I felt the rum had too little character, ballescojones, or whatever Venezuelans call badassery.

So the question arises, for what are you paying this kind of money?  The storage costs of rums aged to eighty years?  Its purported exclusivity and relative rarity? Bragging rights? Probably. But three big ones (I’ve seen it go for about €150 on European webstores) just strikes me as too much.   No me gusta, amigo. I’d rather get three El Dorado 21s, or maybe a few bottles of the feisty Pusser’s 15.


Let me put it this way. I raged about the Pyrat’s Cask 23 and wrote a overlong, scathing indictment of the divergence between quality and price.  Santa Teresa is not quite in that league, because overall, it has elements to it that many appreciate and froth over, even if I don’t. It’s a decent rum, no question. The Bicentenario — pitted against premium choices like the Rum Nation’s Panama 21 (one third the price), St. Nicholas Abbey 10 year old and English Harbour 1981 25 year old — carries on its founders’ traditions of taste, clarity and lightness, good blend quality and decent value. Everything more or less works, everything fits. What’s not to like?

Please take a left turn here, because the real issue is, what’s to love? The rums we care about display characteristics which say something about ourselves that we wish trumpeted to the masses. I’m fun and unconventional (Koloa Gold). I’m big on Bay Street (Appleton 50 year old or maybe the G&M Jamaican Longpond 1941). Ask me about my retirement (Pusser’s, El Dorado 15).  I am staid and prefer to mix and just get hammered…and like meself just so (Screech).  I’m a bit nutso (Rum Nation Jamaican 25)…and so on. What does the Bicentenario say? The trust fund is ticking over? I use a discount brokerage house? I have a summer abode, a nice catamaran and drive a Volvo? By that standard, I have to stick with my assessment: good rum, overly ambitious, lacking attitude, a shade boring…and, alas, overpriced.

 

A:5/10 N:15/25 T:18/25 F:14/25 I:9/15 TOT: 61/100

 

***

My thanks go to the Scotchguy from Kensington Wine Market, who gave me his last heel for nothing, so that I could write this review and take the photographs, without incurring the ire of my parsimonious better half.

A good write up on the company’s history, too detailed for me to abridge, is given here:

http://www.licorea.com/santa-teresa-bicentenario-aj-vollmer-venezuela-p-1069.html?language=en

 Posted by on March 27, 2013 at 8:07 pm
Mar 262013
 

A puzzlingly schizophrenic rum – I can’t quite make up my mind about how good it is: an undistinguished bottle containing a so-so tasting rum with both a lovely nose and a finish to savour. I’m going to go back to this one, for sure, just to nail my opinion down more precisely.

(#078. 58/100)

***

The Diplomatico Anejo I had on the night o the last Liquorature club was one of those weird rums that I couldn’t quite categorize, becaus it had both good elements I liked and others by which I wasn;’t entirely enthralled. However, I had quite a bit of it, so who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

Presented to Liquorature by the same gent who introduced us to the 15 year old Diplomatico Gran Reserva, the Anejo is distilled by the same Venezuelan concern that makes that version – this was merely a younger iteration, having no age statement on the bottle. It also had the rather grandiose statement that it was the Rare Rum of the Caribbean on it, and as a member of the Caribbean diaspora myself, I can tell you that there’s a misnomer if I ever heard one, since not only are there no shortages of rums (rare or otherwise) in the area, but Venezuela, while having a fairly extensive Caribbean beachfront, is not considered culturally a part of De Islands, being more akin to Latin America.  I mean, when was the last time you ever heard of a Venezuelan soca competition, a Veno steel pan band, or their local cricket team?

Bottle appearance?  Utterly average, nothing fancy – solidly seated plastic cap, though, which I liked (at least it wasn’t some cheap tinfoil screw-on). The Hippie stayed silent on this one (remember his childish exuberance with the postage stamp design of the Gran Reserva?) but did partake of a nip or two.

Nose was soft, a little fruity – peaches and soft fleshy types, with a bananas hint emerging reluctantly after a bit; and a vanilla scent which I liked.  Not much in the way of a sting to your snoot, so you’d probably like this one on that level alone. No real complexity there, though.

I said the bottle appearance was utterly average.  The taste, to me, was medium everything. Like Bacardi, it excelled at nothing while being average at everything. It’s almost like the Corolla or Civic of rums. I mean, there was almost nothing out of the ordinary for which to award points or deduct them – the body was medium; the taste was sweet, but not too much so, with neutral smoothness, a taste that lingered on, not too short, not too long, and which had a slightly thicker character that (I swear) tasted of unsweetened chocolate; and there was an odd briny note, a tang of the sea, that I found odd but in no ways unpleasant.

If I was indifferent to the appearance and taste, let me wax somewhat more ebullient on the fade, which was excellent. Soft; smooth, elegant, long lasting. A taste of grapes a little ripe but not as cloying as the Legendario’s muscatel reek, wafted up and stayed in the mind.

On occasion, I’ve been given a hard time by mon pere for not always expressing an unequivocal opinion (he really must love Ebert’s thumb, honestly), and rereading the above I see I’ve done it again. So here goes: I think this is a surprisingly good rum, with elements that make me believe the blender wasn’t too sure what he wanted. I’d mix it or sip it (the latter perhaps with a cube of ice), but what it really makes me want to do is go back to the Gran Reserva: I didn’t have a rating system when I reviewed it back then, but the good and bad of this lower-tiered product from Venezuela makes me want to return and give the other one a more thorough evaluation.

A:5/10 N:13/25 T:14/25 F:14/25 I:12/15 TOT: 58/100

 

 

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 10:16 am
Mar 232013
 

First posted 10th May 2010 on Liquorature. #018

***

I remember being somewhat unenthused with this rum from Venezuela when Scott trotted it out last year.  Venezuelan rums seem to be a bit drier, with less body and not quite as sweet as those made in the Caribbean proper (I note that several online reviews have precisely the opposite opinion), and to my mind, that makes them best for mixers, not sippers.  Still, I had never made good notes on this baby since I tried it for the first time, so, when both Keenan and Scott coincidentally came up with the same bottle two weeks in a row, I had the opportunity to dip my schnozz and see if my deteriorating memories of the first sip were on target.

Some history first: the Santa Teresa distillery is located in Venezuela (north part of South America for the geographically challenged) about an hour east of the capital, Caracas, on land given by the King of Spain to a favoured count in – you guessed it – 1796. Political vagaries being the way they are in South American banana republics, the estate ended up in the hands of a Gustavo Vollmer Rivas, who began making rum from sugar produced on nearby estates – owned by other Vollmerses –  in the late 1800s.  The Santa Teresa 1796 was produced in 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the estate land grant, and, like the Ron Matusalem reviewed elsewhere on this site, is produced by the solera method.

In the solera process, a succession of barrels is filled with rum over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in the solera is tapped for part of its content (say, half), which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles. In the Santa Teresa, there are four levels of ageing. And the final solera is topped up with “Madre” spirit, which is a young blend deriving from both columnar and pot stills.  Seems a bit complicated to me, but sherry makers have been doing it for centuries in Spain, so why not for rum? The downside is, of course, that there’s no way of saying how old it is since it is such a blend of older and younger rums (Appleton does this as well with some of their stock, and I can’t say I was impressed with their offering).

The resultant is a dark brown, medium-bodied honey-gold rum with a backbone of an older, dry blend.  It’s difficult to describe the exact feeling I had when I tasted it, but it’s like a very pure, medium strong unsweetened hot tea carving its way down your throat. Assertive, yet not unpleasant. And not very sweet, as I’ve said – it’s almost like a good sherry.  The nose is lovely: honey, vanilla, some faint hints of fruit (banana and cherries?), caramel and toffee. The taste and texture on the palate is not as smooth as I would like, and the finish is medium long, redolent of light oak and caramel. A pleasant nose, a good sip, a nice finish, a decent taste. A solid rum, medium tier.

I didn’t care for it neat, but on ice it’s a very competent sipper – without going so far as to make me really want to go nuts over it. In other words, not an English Harbour by any stretch of the imagination.  I would use it as a mixer without hesitation, but I’m not sure if that isn’t just a bit of sacrilege there: after all, the whole point of making something this special is to savour the richness, isn’t it? I guess it flew over my head.

It may be too early to say, but thus far, based on this and the Ron Matusalem, I have to say I’m less than impressed with the solera method of blending. I’m perfectly willing to accept that there must be superior examples of the solera blender’s art out there, and will search the reamining 1450+ varieties of rum until I find one, but I fear that either such and example will be found after I curl up my toes, or be out of the range of my rather slender purse.

 Posted by on March 23, 2013 at 4:44 pm
Mar 232013
 

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva rum from Venezuela

 

First posted 9th March 2010 on Liquorature. #017

***

For some reason, the Last Hippie was absolutely enthralled by the label design* of this Venezuelan import when Pat trotted it out for the February 2010 get-together, rhapsodically comparing it to a postage stamp, nearly swooning over the originality of it all. It was the first time I ever saw a label nearly bring a Peathead over to the Light and have a shot of the good stuff, but it fell just short of the mark, alas and perhaps embarassed by his untoward display of emotion, he retreated to the other scottish brews for the rest of the night.

Diplomatica Exclusiva Reserva is a premium aged rum – indeed, the top of the line – made by the Venezuelan firm of Destilerias Unidas…which is now privately held, and a major supplier of raw spirit stock to Seagram.  The research is unclear: either one of the original owners, or Seagram, built a factory in the small town of la Miel, close to the Columbian border, in the 1950s, was for many years the only factor in northern SA and the Caribbean to make both cane and grain based spirits: even now,  this one factory makes whiskeys, vodkas, liquers, gin…and Smirnoff Ice.  (Looking at the location on the map, one wonders why it had to be so remote…I mean, this town is really far away from  anything).

Interestingly, the blend is made from a combination of heavy pot-still rum (80%) and column still rum (20%).  The rums are separately aged in white-oak barrels and then blended together to produce the final product which is a rich and textured dark rum of admirable complexity and taste for the modest price. The website also makes tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Only … rich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…”) which statement I include for completeness, and to contrast it against the majority of rum producers who couldn’t be bothered (to their detriment, I think).

The nearly opaque bottle effectively disguises a copper-brown coloured rum that is medium-heavy bodied and of middle density, and with a distinctive taste.  The caramel and vanilla notes on the nose mellow gently into a very nice taste of burnt sugar, sweet molasses (not much), perhaps cream soda and…butterscotch.  And yet, it’s not overly sweet either. Very slightly ‘oily’, leading to a long, semi-sweet finish that everyone who tried liked.  Definitely top tier stuff, and fully desrving to be had without embellishment of any kind.  Which is not to say it can’t be used as a mixer but it doesn’t need to be.

And quite frankly, I don’t think it should be

* The label is a portrait of Mr. Don Juancho Nieto Melendez de Hacienda Botucal, a famous Venezuelan historical personage (and of impeccably ancient Iberian lineage) who acted as an ambassador for Venzuelan spirits in the 19th century, and noted as a collector of top-shelf liquors of all kinds. If my translation of the spanish web page is right, it was he who encouraged the making of spirits from the area around la Miel, because of the naturally filtered water, and the high quality of sugar cane grown there.

 Posted by on March 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm