Aug 182015
 

D3S_9081

As appealing and soft as a pair of slippers on a cold evening

(#227 / 83/100)

*

Nosing this golden brown forty percenter was like revisiting a place in the mind. The soft sweet scents transported me back to the first time I tried the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva on a dark, bitterly cold and wintry evening.  This rum, made by the same outfit as the DRE, was quite similar: caramel, toffee, unsweetened chocolate and salted butter on rye bread.  There was a slight salty-sweet note here that hinted at soya, or even tequila, but very much in the background, and as it developed, coffee, dried dark fruits and raisins were also elbowing their way to my attention – not bad at all. I felt warmer just sniffing it, and thought back to the early fun days of Liquorature, where I fought a long hard battle to excommunicate the heresy of the scottish tipple with the rums of the True Faith (ultimately without success, but the fight rages on).

I have to comment on the velvety smoothness of the mouthfeel of the Cacique, which was great – it was like your rice-eating mongrel’s adoring I-love-you-master kiss without the drool, or a hungry cat purring and making nice. It was warm and sweet and unaggressive sort of feel on the palate, smooth and thick, without ever quite stepping off the edge and becoming a sweet vanilla-bomb.  Anyway…salt butter again, sour cream, toffee, vanilla, more coffee, very light floral notes, and exactly zero woody or even tobacco notes to be found.  Water?  Naah, I passed – water might have shredded this thing, it was already too light.  You see, the 40% was too weak to really emphasize and bring out the potential of the flavours hidden beneath…I really had to stretch just to sense what I described just now. This made it somewhat unadventurous, uncomplicated, and lacking in what us techno-rum-geeks with our love of exactitude, call “oomph.”  And this carried over into the fade, which might have been the weakest part of the entire drinking experience – the brown sugar came out really hard here, with dark, sweet caramel, butter and toffee…barely escaping the dreaded term “cloying” by the slight bitterness of oak and stale coffee grounds.

D3S_9084

The brand first marketed its rums way back in 1959 – it is now owned by Diageo – and according to wikipedia, it’s the top selling rum in Venezuela (Diplomatico must be pissed). Three varieties exist, the Añejo, the Cacique and the Antiguo, in ascending order, so this is a considered by the makers to be a middle of the road rum. All the rums in the range are supposedly made from molasses distilled in copper stills (I kinda doubt that – the profile suggests column still product), aged a little, then blended, then aged again, for up to eight years. The 500 is no newcomer to the stage, being first issued in 1992 to commemorate the date Columbus landed in the New World (I hesitate to use the word “discovered”).  Now you know as much as I do, and that’s still more than you’ll find on the Diageo website.

Cacique is made by Licoreras Unidas SA in La Miel – these are the same cheerful amigos who make the equally sweet, light and very drinkable Diplomaticos, which may inspire either praise and derision depending on where you stand on the sugar issue. I always kinda liked the Diplomaticos myself, especially in the early years — and even now that I’m more of a dark, heavy, full-proofed aged-rum aficionado, I still think they’re really good as introductory sipping rums (which is also how I came across them).  So I expected the Cacique to more or less hew to the same profile, and it didn’t disappoint in any major way. It shared points of similarity with the light Colombian and Peruvian rums, as well as the other Venezuelans, which argues for a commonality of origin in the diaspora of Cuban-influenced roneros.

So…did I like it?  Yes and no.  The smooth and familiar tastes were comforting in their own way, sweet, pleasant, unadventurous, uncomplex – they love you. No attention needed be paid to the Cacique – it wasn’t that kind of rum – but if that’s your thing, add five points to my score. If on the other hand you’re into cask strength beefcakes that menacingly flex their power and dunder and esters in all directions, and show their indifference to your health or your opinion or your tonsils, better take five off.

Other notes

A cacique is an Arawak (Amerindian) tribal chieftain. I wonder if the irony of a bottle label commemorating both the arrival of Europeans, and the title of a chief of those they nearly exterminated, ever occurred to anyone.

Aug 132015
 

D3S_9085

Frankly, I get more excitement looking for the keys in my pocket.

(#226. 77/100)

***

Like most people, the stuff I’ve tried from Venezuela are the Pamperos, the AJ Vollmer rums of Santa Teresa, and the Diplomaticos from Destileridas Unidas, the latter of which have recently been getting some flak on social media for their over-sugary backbones. Let me add to the Veno lineup with the Veroes, which won medals in 2012 from both the Madrid World Congress of Rum (and again in 2013) and from the XPs at the Miami Rum Rennaisance. I think the Cacique 500 is knocking about somewhere, I’ll probably look at that soon as well.

For the history buffs, Veroes is a part of a group of family businesses. With the 2009 acquisition of San Javier Distillery (itself founded in 1974, though 1975 and 1976 are also quoted in various online sources), the inclusion of commercial recreational spirits took off . San Javier Distillery is located in north-central Venezuela and the brand of Veroes seems to have been theirs. Their expansion into the export market gathered steam after a 2009 modernization and while not precisely unknown in North America, their current thrust is primarily into Europe (Spain for the most part).

In a 2015 interview with GotRum Magazine, it was stated that there were no inclusions and additions whatsoever in the Añejo, so we were certainly getting a pure rum here.  I should mention, that there are some discrepancies in various online materials regarding its true ageing: Industries Bravo, a distributor in Venezuela, says it’s 4 years oldMr. Leopoldo Ayala of CEO of Destilería San Javier (DSJ) and Destilería Veroes (DV), Venezuela, said it’s six years old, in 2015The Madrid International Rum Conference gave it a silver in the “five years old or less” category, and the booth attendant at the Berlin Rum Fest was absolutely sure it was a blend of rums between 2-5 years of age. So go figure.  A private message to Veroes themselves gave me the reply that it is a blend of five year old rums…they may be having some trouble getting the word out.

The 40% rum was golden in colour; nosing provided an initially very sharp and spicy entrance, with opening scents of floor wax, herbal tea, incense and alcohol.  In some cases such a melange works, in others not.  Here, not so much. I endured the unappealing sharpness at the front end, and it mellowed out into more traditional molasses, vanilla and caramel as time passed.  I literally hung around with the rum and talked to my glass for over ten minutes exchanging anecdotes (with the glass) about other rums we had known and met over the years, but complexity (or conversation) did not seem to be its ambition or its forte, and apart from some additional light floral and citrus notes, it had nothing further to offer me. So, not being overly inspired thus far (or by its ability to speak), but knowing that sometimes nose and palate diverge widely in quality, I moved on.

The palate: reasonably smooth, a shade spicy, medium to light bodied; clear and clean and much less heated than those nose. It provided pleasant, unremarkable flavours of vanilla and caramel; quite a bit of woodiness in there; the rum seemed to have no particular unique character of its own that would make it stand out, which can be read as both a compliment and a denunciation, I suppose.  Adding water helped a little, just not enough to raise the bar.  Certainly coconut, some cherries and a flirt of citrus made themselves known, yet I felt that it needed more, more of everything – heft, intensity, weight, complexity, flavours – to succeed better, even as a cocktail ingredient.  The finish confirmed this – it was clean and short, nothing additional to report, without attitude or real complexity.

D3S_9088

 

Maybe I’m being somewhat curt with my rejection of what is a workmanlike rum, reasonably made, if unexciting to behold.  Perhaps even unfair, given that it is a young rum still growing out of training wheels and likely not made to be a sipping rum. There are indeed older variants of the brand, six and twelve years old, which I have not tried, and it’s likely that satisfaction is to be gained there, as is usual with older expressions higher up the price and value chain. And after all, it did win those medals in Madrid, got a nod from the XPs, so others appreciate it.  This one may be all about opinion, then.

But for me, the Veroes Añejo is a young rum, too light and untamed. A mixing agent, that’s all. This is not a rum I particularly disliked, or, conversely, particularly enjoyed.  I was left feeling very little of anything. It absorbed enjoyment, anger, challenge, complexity, artistry, character, the way a black hole absorbs…well, everything. Finishing my tasting and writing up my detailed notes, all that remained was a peculiar indifference, hanging around like the Cheshire cat’s grin. Normally I revel in the plunge to dissect a drink’s profile: here, I’d much rather remain on the event horizon and hang around, getting older while waiting for its more aged siblings.

Other notes:

The rum conforms to the Venezuelan CIVEA “Denominación de Origen Controlada” (DOC) which marks it as Venezuelan rum adhering to certain standards of aging, production and bottling. I have not yet done any research to see how closely this lines up with the French AOC.

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. 84/100)

***

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.

***

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

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. 79/100)

***

The Diplomatico Anejo I had on the night of the last Liquorature club was one of those weird rums that I couldn’t quite categorize, because 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.

 

 

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.

Mar 232013
 

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva rum from Venezuela

 

First posted 9th March 2010 on Liquorature.

(#017. Unscored)

***

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.

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