Dec 022017
 

#464

Seen over a span of decades, it is more clear than ever that the El Dorado 15 year old is a seminal rum of our time. “It is a bridge” I wrote back in 2010 in my unscored review, remarking that it straddles the territory between the lower end twelve year old and the 21 year old, and represents a sort of intermediary in value and price and age. The best of all worlds for El Dorado, you might say, and indeed it remains, even twenty five years after its introduction in 1992, one of the most popular rums in the world for those who enjoy the Demerara style.  Any time a blog or website has a series of comments on favourite affordable rums, you can be sure it’ll find its way in there somewhere.  It cannot be easily ignored, even now in the time of independents and cask strength Guyanese monsters aged beyond all reason.

That it succeeds at so effectively colonizing our mental map of good rums bottled at living room strength is a testament to its marketing, but also its overall quality.  DDL themselves tacitly accept this by not only keeping the rum in production for over a quarter century, but chosing specifically that one to issue with a number of fancy finishes (and for a very good rundown of those, look no further than RumShopBoy’s complete analysis, and his separate conclusions, as well as the Quebec Rum’s (French) reviews the only ones available right now). My irascible father, no rum slouch himself, scorns all other rums in the El Dorado range in favour of this one. Many Guyanese exiles wouldn’t have their home bars without it.  What the actual quality is, is open to much more debate, since all rumhounds and rumchums and rabid aficionados are well aware – and never tire of saying – that there is 31-35 g/L of additives in there (either caramel or sugaring, it’s never been definitively established), and by that standard alone it should, like the 21, be consigned to an also-ran.

But it isn’t.  Somehow this rum, a blend of the PM, EHP and VSG stills – which is to say, all the wooden stills, with the PM dominant – keeps on trucking like the energizer bunny, and, love it or hate it, it sells well year in and year out, and has fans from across the spectrum.

Tasting it in tandem with the 12 year old (I’ll do a revisit of this as well soon, though not as part of the Key Rums series) and the 21, it’s clear that it possesses a bit more oomph than it’s younger sibling, in all aspects.  Not only in strength (43% ABV) and age (three years more than the 12), but also in overall quality. It noses quite well – licorice, anise, creamy caramel, bitter chocolate, leather and smoke.  Orange rind.  Some mustiness and vague salt – basically all the things that the cask strength indies demonstrate, with good complexity and balance thrown in…but somewhat more dampened down too, not as fierce, not as elemental, as what might have been the case.

The various hydrometer lists around the place have shown there’s adulteration going on in the rum, and there is no doubt that when you drink the 15 in tandem with clear, untouched rums, the softening effect of the add-ons are noticeable. What is astounding that even those levels don’t entirely sink the experience. Consider: it’s smooth and possesses depth and heat.  It starts with licorice, and adds oak, some smoke, then slowly the dark fruits come into play – prunes, raisins, black olives, overripe cherries.  There’s some honey and the faint molasses background of coarse brown sugar.  In every way it’s a better rum than the 12 year old, yet one can sense the way the flavours lack snap and crispness, and are dumbed down, softened, flattened out – the sharp peaks and valleys of an independently issued rum are noticeably planed away, and this extends all the way to the finish, which is short and sleepy and kind of sluggish, even boring: sure there’s caramel, molasses, oak, licorice, nuts and raisins again, but didn’t we just have that?  Sure we did. Nothing truly interesting here.

All that aside, I’d have to say that for all its faults, there’s a lot to appreciate about this particular rum.  Much like the 21 it rises above its adulteration and provides the new and not-so-demanding rum drinker with something few rums do – a particular, specific series of tastes that almost, but not quite, edge outside the mainstream.  It gives enough sweet to appeal to those who bend that way, and just enough of a distinctive woody-smoky-leathery profile to attract (and satisfy) those who want something heavier and more musky.  

Now, let me be clear – a superlative demonstration of the blender’s art this is not. It is not one of the fiercely pungent Jamaicans, not a lighter, clearer, crisper agricole, nor is it an easy going Cuban or Panamanian, or a well-assembled Bajan.  I think it’s eclipsed even by the single-still offerings of DDL What it really succeeds at being, is well-nigh unique on its own particular patch.  Its success rests on great appeal to the masses of rum drinkers who aren’t drinking a hundred different rums a year, and who don’t take part in the Great Sugar Debate, who just want something tasty, reasonably well made and reasonably sweet, reasonably complex, that can be either sipped or swilled or mixed up without breaking the bank.  It’s on that level that the El Dorado 15 year old succeeds, remarkably well, even now, and is a tough, well-rounded standard for any other rum of its age and proof and point of origin to beat. Or at least, in the opinions of its adherents.

(82/100)

Oct 052017
 

#392

As the years roll by, I have come to the conclusion that the last decade will be regarded as the Golden Age of Rum – not just because of Velier, Silver Seal, Moon Imports, Rum Nation, Ekte, Samaroli, Compagnie des Indes, Secret Treasures (and all their cousins), but also because of the amazing writers who have emerged to chronicle their adventures with rum.  Somehow, social media and blogging software have formed a nexus with rum makers that allowed previously niche brands to simply explode onto the stage, raising awareness and knowledge to unprecedented heights.

However, an unanticipated side effect of this increase in knowledge and experience (even if only vicarious) is that buyers are more than ever leaving the what I term “national” brands like Mount Gay, El Dorado, Flor de Cana and Appleton to go venturing into the new, the esoteric or the independent. Few of the established brands have managed to meet this challenge – Foursquare with its cask strength releases and Velier collaboration is one, Grenada has had one or two overproofs floating around, and DDL certainly tried (timidly to be sure) with the Rare Collection.  Mount Gay is getting in on the action, and no doubt the Jamaicans are just building up a head of steam, and you can see Diplomatico, St. Lucia Distilleries and many others jumping aboard.

This leaves an old standby premium blended rum, the El Dorado 21, in something of a limbo.  It’s too old to ignore, too cheap to pass by, but lacks something of the true premium cachet…an affliction shared by, oh, the Flor de Cana 18.  That cachet can be conferred, for example, by purity: but it sure isn’t that – it’s not from any one of the famed stills, and various measurements suggest between 16-33 g/L of additives presumed to be caramel or sugar.  Alternatively, it could ascend in the estimation based on limited availability, and that isn’t the case either, since it is nowhere near as rare as the 25 YO editions, and isn’t marketed that way either. Nor does it go for broke and get released at a stronger proof point. Yet, for all that cheap premium reputation it has, I submit we should not throw it out just yet and pretend it’s some kind of bastard stepchild not worthy of our time.  Revisiting it after a gap of many years made me more aware of its failings…but also of its quality for those who aren’t too worried about either its strength or adulteration. One simply has to approach it on its own terms and either ignore it or take it as it is.

Re-sampling the rum in mid-2017 – some seven and a half years after my first encounter with it – showed how both I and the world had changed.  Many of the elements I so loved back in the day remained – the nose was earthy and musky, like dry ground after a long rain, and the licorice and oaky notes came through strong, attended faithfully by molasses, butterscotch, caramel, burnt sugar, very strong chocolate.  I let it stand for a little and came back and there were bags of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves – and slowly developing dark fruits and raisins coming through.  And yes, there was an emergent sweetness to it as well which made it easy easy easy to sniff (I was trying the 40% version, not the 43% one from Europe).

The nose showed much of what made and makes it such a popular premium rum for those whose tastes bend that way – at this point the profile was warm, enjoyable and luscious.  Problems began with the tasting.  Because while it was smooth, deep and warm, it was also thick, and by some miracle teetered on the brink of, without ever stepping over into, sweet cloyishness.  That it did not do so is some kind of minor miracle, and that as many flavours came through as they did is another.  Prunes, vanilla, creme brulee, more licorice, and salty caramel ice cream were first and remained the backbone of it, upon which were displayed hints of grapes, dates, cloves, christmas black cake, and even a smidgen of citrus sneaked slyly through from time to time.  It was great, but just too thick for me now, a shade too sweet, and the finish, well, at 40% ABV you’re not getting much, being way too short and simply repeating what had come before – frankly, I think that any rum this old had no business being released at such a paltry proof point.

Back in 2010 I scored it 88, saying what a brilliant rum it was, catering to all my tastes.  To some extent that’s still true – it’s simply that after many years of trying rums from around the world, I’m more aware of such adulteration and can spot the masking, dampening effect on the profile more easily.  I assure you, it’s by no means enough to crash and burn the experience – it’s just something I no longer care for very much, and when combined with a less than stellar strength, well…..

These days I regard the ED21 and the like with some sadness.  Not because of its sweetness and adulteration, really (that’s a given, grudgingly accepted with bad grace) — but because it reminds me of a time when I knew less, was pleased with more, regarded each new rum in the queue with excitement and interest and curiosity and yes, even joy.  It brings to mind a 1950 Frank O’Hara poem, where he wrote

“Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water.”

That’s how I felt then, and occasionally, I still burn that fiercely now.  But with experience (and perhaps a little wisdom), I had to trade away some of the excited exuberance of the beginner and accept that time – and my tastes, and indeed I myself – moved on.

Because, you see, this rum is not made for me any longer.  It is not made for Josh, Matt, Gregers, Laurent, Cyril, Steve, Johnny, Paul, Richard, Henrik, Wes, Simon, Ivar and others who have been at this for so long.  Once, in our rum-youth, we may have regarded a 21 year old like it was some kind of Everest. But we have passed beyond it in our journey, and see it now as no more than a foothill, a small peak among Himalayans.  It is made for those that follow us, for those who are now embarking on their own saga, or for the unadventurous who, like Victorian readers, prefer for now to read of the exploits of the trailblazers and pathforgers, but shy away from taking on the force and fury of a cask strength forty year old.  It is for such new drinkers that the rum is for, and one day, in their turn, they will also tread beyond it.

In the meantime, though, the El Dorado 21 is one of the key aged rums of our world, no matter how distant in our memories it lies, and no matter how much its tarted up profile has become something to decry.  We just remember that we liked it once, we enjoyed it once, and must allow those who appreciate rums for precisely those reasons, to discover it in their turn today as they walk down the path of their own rum discovery, seeking their own individual, personal, perfect El Dorado in the world of rum.

(84/100)


Other notes

Made from a blend of distillates from the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the French 4-column Savalle column still – for my money the Versailles is dominant.

 

Mar 102017
 

Photo copyright whisky.dk

Rumaniacs Review #029 | 0429

Issued around 2011, the El Dorado 25 YO received an update from the original 1980 version, with the blend tweaked a little.  The enclosure and bottle remained the same, however, and unfortunately for the modern rumporn brigade of the millenial teens, not enough was done to upgrade the rum to what a current (2017) connoisseur would consider par for the course – unadulterated and cask strength.  Instead, sticking with the tried and true formula which sold so well in the past, it remained 43%, and perhaps we should consider it a favour that the reported 51 g/L sugar of the 1980 version was reduced to 39 g/L here.  I suppose that’s why this one scored incrementally better.  But still, a 25 year old rum made from some of the most famous stills in the world should be a world beater.  And it isn’t. Not even close.

Colour – dark red-amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Marginally better than the 1980 (I tried both side by side).  While still too anemic, it was vaguely crispier and fruitier, nuttier and brinier. Bags of anise and dark dried raisins, jam, molasses and caramel, given some edge with notes of tobacco and oak and some minerally ashy background.  A very good nose.

Palate – Takes the promise and trashes it…worst part of the experience.  This is a €400+ rum, aged 25 years (with all the attendant expectations such stats engender), and a depressingly liqueured might-have-been. If one strains the nose almost out of its original shape, one can sense (rather than actually taste) black cake and honey, vanilla and oak, philly cheese on toast, plus traditional fruits, raisins, anise, prunes, backed up by a nice creme brulee.  And to that extent I liked it. But the sugar…it was just too overbearing – it was like you could never quite come to grips with what was on offer, not because of a low ABV (though this did absolutely nothing to enhance the experience) but because the sweet dampened everything.  It made for a thick, muddy sort of mangrove swamp, instead of the crisp, complex, fast-flowing river that would have been better.

Finish – Too short, to pale, too sweet.  Nothing much going on here.

Thoughts – What the rum provides is still ahead of spiced nonsense like the Kraken or Don Papa, but that’s damning it with faint praise.  Those cost 1/10th of this and have fewer pretensions, raise fewer expectations. Seven years ago I enjoyed the 25 YO El Dorados I tried because I knew less and was more satisfied with 40-43% rums.  That time has now passed and I can see more failure than achievement here. One of my idols proved to have feet of clay, alas.

(81/100)

Other Rumaniacs liked this rum even less than I did.  You can see their evaluations on the official website.

Jan 312017
 

Photo copyright (c) Masters of Malt

Rumaniacs Review #028 | 0428

In the beginning DDL made the El Dorado 1980 25 year old and it was good. The rum pundits looked upon it with favour, tasted and smiled and pronounced it great. For it was greatly aged and unique and well presented and the people were pleased and parted willingly with their hard-earned coin. But then, lo, the world around it moved and changed, and darkness moved upon the face of the cognoscenti, for as the stars turned overhead, other rums were made, better rums, stronger rums, purer rums — and the El Dorado 25 was loath to change with the times.  Verily, it was seen to be a mere mask of greatness without actually being great, having been corrupted and adulterated by the sly serpent of sugar.  And those very persons who heretofore had sung its praises and made sweet sacrifice of good yellow gold at the altar of DDL, now turned their faces from its twisted taste and denounced its falsity.  But many disciples stayed faithful to the heavy  sweetness of the rum, hearkened on to its seductive call, and continued to make obeisance to its false promises.

And it came to pass that the Lone Caner, slinking furtively behind his better-known fellow acolytes of the Order of the Rumaniacs, finally dared also to walk through the abyss, to investigate reports and rumours of this fabled beast.  Armed with only his trusty pen as weapon and notebook for shield, clad in not-quite-righteousness and supposed knowledge gleaned from years of study in matters of The Cane, he went quite into the lair of the legendary rum, to there do battle and come away with the flame of true knowledge.  Was indeed the El Dorado the mythical sugar demon denounced from many an evangelical pulpit?  Or did evil rumour and the jealous despite of the followers of the New Faith unfairly malign a misunderstood denizen of the rumiverse?

And upon reaching the very centre of the bottle’s domain, admired the Caner the golden etching of the flagon. Poured into the glass the Caner did his hard earned sample for which he had sacrificed so much.  Smelled it with overlong snoot, inhaled into much abused lungs, as he drew into himself the olfactory essence of the dram, fearing not, for the Rum Spirit was within him, his alcoholic belches were the stuff of legends unto themselves, and he was far too witless for fear.

Richness there was, immediate, for the scent of the rum spoke to the fair stills whose puissance had been taken by the Makers and through magic and incantations and the tears of virgins, been rendered down into the brown elixir worshipped in times past by the people as a Great Spirit.  Enmore spake commandingly, and Vesailles alongside, and perhaps a whisper of the fabled and elusive Uitvlugt too, all breathing life into the rich nose.  Burnt sugar there was, and nougat, coffee, burning cane fields, and anise, and the sweet aromas of fruit and licorice to make the hearts of children glad.  But lo, what was this?  Even as the richness was sensed, it congealed and became thick and cloying and the dread spectre of sugar surged forth from the darkness to do battle with the rum and the Caner.  Too strong was it for resistance, and yea, the sugar vanquished all that came before it and the nose faltered and died upon the floor.

Struggled did the Caner, to raise his glass and taste the dark brown lass, but alas, bitter disappointment was his only reward.  For by dint of sweet promises and the lure of earthly delights known to only a select few, the fair maiden of the El Dorado proved herself to be a faithless siren luring him to his doom.  Drowned he was in the overwhelming blanket of sugar.  Struggled he did to sense the dim light of vanillas and kiwi fruit and deep molasses, the soft caramels and inviting toffees and coffees and aromatic notes of tobacco.  But nay, the Dark Spirits were merciless, and he failed in his quest utterly; and even the faint glimmers of anise and caramel and burnt sugar turned their faces from him and vanished sadly into the underworld, never to be seen again…leaving him only with remaining teeth decaying and tongue coated with sticky syrup, rending his robes and gnashing his teeth in the anguish of what he had been denied.

Then wroth was the Caner, for he had earlier loved this fair spirit, which had so misled him in his innocence and newbie-ness with shades of illusion now proven false. Raised he then his acerbic pen, readied he his trusty notebook.  Furiously was the pen wielded and the ink stained the page as if he had spilled the rum running through his own veins. And he recorded for posterity his despite.  For in his disappointment and his frustration, these were the weapons he meant to use to record the legend of this mythical rum and to speak truth to those who would continue to sing songs of praise to its purported magnificence.

Therefore, then, gentle reader, take thee heed of the glorious failure of one led to ruin by his misplaced admiration for a false idol, and go not into the abyss thyself. Let his misadventure serve as both warning and instruction, that great age and great price and a fair and sweet appearance are sometimes masks to deceive the unwary.  Tread not lightly into congress with such strumpets lest ye be destroyed in thy turn.

(80/100)

Mar 262013
 

As long as you like a darker, heavier profile of fruity and dark sugar notes, this is a rum that gets better and better as you compare more and more rums to it.

First posted Feb 4, 2011 on Liquorature

(#098. 83/100)

*

The median of the el Dorado range exhibits a schizophrenic character, in line with its uncertain position as neither the entrance level rum (that honour belongs to the five year old), or its other bastard brother the single barrel, or any of its two superior sipping cousins, the 15 or 21.  It’s kinda left alone to sink or swim on its own merits.

Those merits aren’t half bad, I should note.  Readers might as well be warned, however: I have a weakness for dark rums of slight sweetness and age, and therefore I regard El Dorado’s as particularly good specimens of the type, never mind that they come from a country I spent many years in and of which I still retain fond memories…and where I was able to pass through many of the sugar plantations – Port Mourant, Diamond and others – where DDL gets its raw materials and stills.

I had the 12 year the same night I meant to sample all the other rums in the range, but as noted in the 15 year old review, I was tired, irritated and feeling crabby after a particularly loathsome day at the office, and therefore limited myself to retrying the 12, and then moving upscale.

The thing is, as a rum in its own right, the 12 isn’t half bad. Made from molasses in the Enmore and Diamond coffey stills and blended with a lead spirit from the Port Mourant double pot still (the only wooden one still in existence, and which also makes the Single Barrel, and several European specialist makers)  and then matured in used bourbon barrels, the 12 is not quite the equal of the 15; however, DDL have taken steps in 2006 to rejig the blend, so that now it seems to be right there on the ladder leading up to the premium sippers above it.

The nose is a bit sharp, but you can see where the progression is leading: molasses, fruit, some toffee, caramel and burnt sugar assail your nose in waves of olfactory harmony. The blend is rich and mellow and it comes out in the smell, in spite of the sharper tannins from the oak barrels making themselves felt early on.

The rum is a dark tawny colour (not as dark as the subsequent older iterations, but getting there), and of a medium heavy body; it hugs the sides of your glass as if reluctant to seep back down, when swirled. On the palate, it reminds me somewhat of an untamed horse: not entirely sure where it’s going, it bucks and kicks you some, scrapes across your tongue, but you sort of forgive that, because the overall blend of flavour and texture is so good.  There is a deep flavour of dark sugar and spice, mixed in with the tang of citrus, softness of toffee, all mixed around with a lush caramel (and I’m a sucker for that, as my purchases of ice cream will attest).

The 12 fails on the backstretch, I judge – it’s a bit too harsh for a good twelve year old rum, and one expects better (the 15 more than makes up for that, I should note).  This does not invalidate is as a sipper, just makes you want to run out and buy the next one up the line, or add ice, maybe a splash of chaser.  But on it’s own terms, with the balance of sweet and spice and burn, with a mellow finish that lasts a pleasantly long time and oils the back of your throat for longer than you have a right to expect…well, what can I say? It’s a success for its age.

Having written all the above, what would I recommend? Truth to tell, I’d use this as a high end mixer for sure, and if looking for a premium sipper, just go up to the 15, or blow a hundred for the 21.  But as a general all rounder for a lower price, this one is hard to beat – it deserves a place on your shelf for all those visitors to your rooms or houses or apartments who want to try something a bit richer than Bacardi, Appleton V/X, Lamb’s or Mount Gay (those standard staples of the young), but don’t want to bust the bank doing it.

 

 

Mar 242013
 

First posted 10 September 2010 on Liquorature #036

The 15 year old is a different animal from it’s older and younger sublings, and resides on the top of the sippers lists of many a rum aficionado.

***

The 15 year old is the bridge.  It is the last bottle in DDL’s premium line that will not set you back three figures, and still has the cheery character of a younger rum, the cheeky palate that dances and laughs across your tongue and then happily bitch slaps you for your trouble with all the insouciance of the first girl who ever refused you a dance. In it you see the developing hints of the mastery first seen in the 12 year old that culminates the 21 year old.

I was all set to do a vertical tasting of all the El Dorados: the 5 yr, single barrel, 12, 15 and 21 year old, but truth was, the day I had set aside for this I was just to damned tired, and having had the 21 year old not too long before, I contented myself with sipping the 12 year old to refresh my memory, and then cracked the 15 year old I had managed to snag the week before; and that, by the way, was a stroke of luck, because it was the last bottle Willow Park had on the shelf – they may have had more, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Demerara Distillers Limited is one of the largest and quite possibly the most professionally run international enterprise headquartered in Guyana.  It’s main competitor in the liquor trade, Banks DIH, is a blender of the XM rum line, and producer of other spirits, beers and soft drinks (and of the marvellously named bottled water “Tropical Mist”), but for my money, when it comes to premium hooch, it’s DDL, and that enterprise stands alone.

The El Dorado series is DDL’s premium export line (as opposed to the decidedly mediocre local crap, the King of Diamonds or Russian Bear which people my age cut their teeth on, which even locals avoid(ed) if they can get the XM-5), and readers of my reviews, knowing my preferences, should not be surprised at how much affection I hold for El Dorados.   Part of that comes from the complexity of the blend, coming as it does from fifteen to twenty five year old rums originating in the Enmore and Diamond Coffey stills, the Port Mourant double wooden pot still, and the Versailles single wooden pot still, all blended and aged in old bourbon oak casks. The quality shows.

The fifteen is a rich, dark blend characteristic of Guyanese rums, almost opaque (though not as dark as the inkiness of the Kraken, or, for that matter, its older sibling the 21 year old); it’s redolent of molasses and dark brown Demerara sugar in a freshly opened packet. There’s a sort of charcoal note wrapped around the nose somewhere, something smoky, and not at all unpleasant. Toffee and fruit jam. Like the 21 year, but not quite as much, the medium heavy dark body slowly slides back down the sides of the glass in lazy, fat legs of a Bourda market fishwife.

On the tongue, the rum is a sort of intense marriage of deep flavours. Dark chocolate (unsweetened, dried fruit, licorice, a flirt of anise start you off. You can taste the oak imparted by the barrels the components of the blend were aged in, but amazingly, they never overtake the whole blend.  Note also that DDL, almost alone among premium rum makers, follows the whisky rule of stating the age of the rum as the age of the youngest part of the blend. You can separate out well balanced hints of caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, wound around with the faintest hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and the barest trace of orange peel.  There is just enough sweet for me to appreciate depth and body, and just little enough to pronounce its age.  In fairness, it’s a phenomenally well-balanced drink over all – it can go well neat, on ice or even as a mixer (I do not recommend it as a cocktail, mind you, since it requires no adornment or enhancing).

The finish is an excellent deep burn, not really painful per se, more like a heated liquid – tea! – slowly carving its way down, and it’s excellently long.  Yes it does have a bit of sting to it (like the playful smack I mentioned above), but it’s not malicious in a way I often have complained about in the Appletons or the French agricoles…more like a friendly backslap to say “Later dude,” from a friend who doesn’t know his strength.

I don’t give numerical ratings as a general rule, because I want my explanation to speak for my experience, and maybe that’s a mistake, seeing how much stock readers seem to place in The Last Hippie’s Whisky ratings and the numbers he assigns to nose, palate, finish and intangibles. But in the case of this strikingly original fifteen year old, I think I might make this concession:  while sticking to my guns regarding a numerical score, I will be honest to admit that on a five star scale, El Dorado 15 year old easily demonstrates that it warrants no less than four, and if it wasn’t for its even more stellar older brother, I’d give it a 4.5 star rating right away.

El Dorado 15 is on par with the Zaya 12 year, and handily eclipses the Captain Morgan Private Stock, and gives the Bruichladdich Renegade line and the upper level Flor de Cañas a run for their money at a lesser price. I actually think it’s better than most of these. If you’re looking for an intro to the world of good sippers, or a gift of liquor that is at the top of the midrange, look no further.  You’ve found it.

Update December 2016

After years of selling this top class 15 year old rum, El Dorado has come in for serious opprobium in the rum community for not disclosing the addition of sugar across the line (30-38 g/L for the 15 year old depending on who’s doing the measuring, and when).  I still like the rum a lot, and don’t always have a problem with additions, but I’m a bear on disclosure, and really annoyed by the fact that it was never acknowledged by DDL, to this day.

Mar 242013
 

First posted Oct 26, 2010 on Liquorature. #035

Note: I have written a companion piece to this review for RumConnection here: it’s more tightly researched, a bit longer, and takes a more structured approach.  But both this review and that one are of a piece, and I hope you enjoy them

***

Of all the rums reviewed here, I believe that the only reasonably complete “age set” of a single distillery’s products I’ve managed to buy is the el Dorado line. Somehow, Calgary seemed to have gotten most of the el Dorado aged rums over time, though some of the estate editions are missing – and I’ve snagged everything I ever saw up for sale…except for the ne plus ultra, their fabled 25.

Now the El Dorado 21 costs ~$100, the English Harbour 25 goes for $200, Mount Gay 1703 $110 and Clemente XO $126 (with the Appleton 30 at a whopping $300+ in Calgary, and $550 in Toronto)…the El Dorado 25 supposedly retails for a cool $350, but only when you can find it, and that’s about as likely as finding seriousness in a Rajinikanth movie.  So it’s a little like a Grail of sorts for me, and when an old friend in Toronto mentioned he had a bottle of the Millenium Edition  (bottled for the year 2000), and was prepared to let me have a sip under carefully controlled circumstances (lock, key, watchful guards and closed circuit cameras not excluded), well, what can a man do but accede and hustle his behind over there.

The various reviews I’ve done of the El Dorado line give more than enough history of the producing company without me adding substantially to it, but in brief, more than any one company in the world, DDL ushered in the age of premium sipping rums way back in 1992 when the El Dorado aged vintages emerged, led by the flagship 15 year old Special Reserve (which my father told me quite frankly is his favourite of them all). To a great extent this was aided by the tremendous variety of original and modern distilling equipment DDL had (and has), including original wooden stills dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries; these permit a variety of dark matured rums that form the backbone of the range.

The ED-25 shares, with a few others, the humourous cachet of being old enough to have intimate relations with itself, and to call the bottle it comes in merely “a bottle” is to do it a disservice.  Like the Angostura 1919 and the Appleton 30, it comes in a container best referred to as a decanter, or maybe a flagon (minus the handle).  It may lack the zen-like Spartan simplicity of the EH10, but it’s arresting for all that and the glass-topped cork makes its own statement of quality (I particularly liked the voluptuous popping sound when eased out). You feel, when opening this baby, that you should be on a plantation house somewhere, watching the sun go down over emerald green canefields moving and rustling in the trade winds.

Right away you are enveloped by warm breathy fumes of your favourite bedtime partner gently blowing brown sugar at you. The nose is not sharp enough to sting, but asserts its prescence in a sort of mild burn that is far from unpleasant and hints of caramel, brown sugar, faint orange peel, spices and perhaps (and I’m reaching here) cinnamon. Slow, fat legs swirl in your glass as it drains in an oily film down the sides.  I had observed before that I loved the viscousness of the 21 year old…this one looks to do it one better.

And it does.  “Oiliness” is a mark of how well the rum coats your tongue and allows the tastes to remain there.  The ED25 is a step ahead of the 21 year old I so admired, perhaps a shade more viscous, a bit thicker in the mouth.  It gives the liquid a richness and feel that I find amazing.  It’s still a spirit of 40% ABV, but dense enough for you to almost feel you’re getting a liqueur. The taste that comes through is of smoke and oak, sweetness (a shade more than the 21) and caramel, molasses, nuts, fresh coconut shavings still damp from the blade, bananas, cherries and a slight hint of liquorice; and the sense, never quite solidified, of wet warm ground softly steaming after a tropical drizzle. And there was that wine-like taste of cigarillos soaked in port which I used to love in my smoking days.

The dark brown rum is smoother than any rum has a right to be, and to taint it with any kind of mixer would be sacrilege.  I had it neat and then with ice, but my take would be to just have it neat and sip it one small mouthful at a time.  The finish is long and lasting, and like a playful tabby, it bats you with half-sheathed claws right at the end just to let you know you can’t take it for granted…what a wonderful rum this was, indeed.

I suggested in my review of another uber-rum (the Appleton 30) that I can titivate around with opinions on the low and midrange rums without losing any kind of credibility, but just because a man pays a lot for a bottle of the good stuff does not immediately guarantee  a positive, let alone a sterling, review.  That I paid not a red cent except fuel costs to get to John’s house does not invalidate this sentiment.  Was it as good as I had been led to believe?

In answering this question, I want to stay away from making any kind of unequivocal statement as “this is the best” or, “it’s the epitome of rum” or any such superlative, because at end, what you are getting here is an opinion. Mine, to be exact, and as readers of my writing will have discerned by now, I like smooth sippers of some sweetness, complex flavours and subtle underpinnings, with a good mouthfeel and long finishes.  On that level, the El Dorado 25 is one of the best commercially available 40% rums ever made: in my opinion it’s a top five pick for sure (and note how carefully I phrased that). Where it fails slightly, is in the sweetness component.  It’s just a bit too much, the burnt sugar and caramel flavours being a bit too aggressive: they just edge out the subtler tastes coiling beneath, and while the upside is that this smoothens things out a bit on the finish, masks the smoky oak tannins enough for it not to be a whisky (a problem I had with Appletons), it prevents that coming together of all elements — flavor profile, texture and finish — that would give it the premium many will feel a rum like this deserves, and justify the price tag.

That this is the top end of rums is not in question, and so, at the end, whether you buy it or not depends a lot on how you see rums yourself. Are you prepared to shell out over three hundred dollars for a world class sipper, or are you at that stage where you would prefer to go a rung lower and buy two or three also-premium, almost-as-good rums for that same price and triple your enjoyment? In my youth, I knew exactly where I stood on that sentiment; at my current age, with a little bit of cash socked away to indulge myself (and an understanding spouse who pretends not to notice), I’d have to concede that I’d walk – nay, run — to Willow Park to buy this, if they ever stocked it.

…but only once.

***

 Update February 2017 – I had the good fortune to re-taste this as part of the Rumanicas lineup, and  the intervening years made one hell of a difference: it was staggering how my own tastes had changed.  Not only was 40% way too weak (the rum retails at 43% in Europe), but the sweet was now something that could only be described as an epic fail.  I believe that for its time (~2005-2011) it was right and commanded the heights; few other makers could produce a 25 year old rum in any real quantity to compete with this.  But as full proofs became the preferred strength, and lack of adulteration was the signature of top end rum; and as other, sometimes older rums came on the market, DDL never really changed with the times.  To be sure there will always be those to whom this rum appeals.  These days, I’m no longer one of them, until DDL dials down the sugar and issues the rum at a higher proof.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 30 July 2010 on Liquorature.

(#031. 78/100)

***

We’ve tasted the El Dorado 21 year old (a superb example of the distiller’s art) and I have a 12 year old kicking around somewhere that I’m awaiting the return of the Bear to crack, but since the low end of the scale was available, it formed the third part of the three-rum selection for the July 2010 gathering.  I’d like to point out that what Demerara Distillers markets abroad as 5-year, is vastly different from what is foisted on the local market in Guyana, and that’s a shame, since it says that leavings are given to the locals, while high-revenue earners are shipped abroad.

DDL is headed by a marketing genius: Yesu Persaud, the Chairman of the company, saw the emergence of premium sipping rums coming and lay down stocks from the 1980s and even before that; so in 1992, when DDL issued the El Dorado 15 year old Special Reserve, it showed that rum, like whisky, could compete for the sipping market on level terms.  Too – and for this I have to give full credit and many attaboys – DDL has used the whisky principle of stating that when something is a 12 year old or 15 year old, then that is the component of the drink that is the youngest part of the blend.

As the picture shows, this is a brown-gold rum, not terribly heavy in density. Baby legs scamper in scrawny rills back down the glass in labba-time, and those nose is simple, without complexity – the usual caramel and burnt sugar offering, though somewhat lighter than usual, and with some cinnamon and perhaps coconut thrown in for good measure.  There’s that spirity sting on the schnozz to watch out for, of course.  About what one would expect from a five year old.  I’m beginning to come to the belated conclusion that the only real difference between a five and a fifty year old is the care taken to smoothen out and balance the various tastes and burns…younger babies are simply bastard offsprings of more noble sires and have not yet grown into their stature, so to speak.

Tastewise, I have the advantage – or suffer under the burden – of having tasted DDLs crap ware in the old country, so my expectations of their single digit rums are always low (I concede that the exported tipple is miles ahead of the local market hooch). But I must admit that the five caught me off guard: I had been expecting the slightly dark sweetness of DDLs older offerings, but got instead something drier, smokier and more distinctive.  The flavour of coconut, anise and caramel blends into something akin to a very strong, unsweetened tea carving its way down your throat, with a bite of heat rather than that of acid (I hope I’m making the distinction clear).  Sure there is burn at the back end, but less than I would have imagined – actually, the rum reminds me of a young cognac more than anything else.

Which is not to say I was entirely enamoured of DDL’s rum here. You know me and my love for sweets, so on that level, plus the rather low effort put into muting the burn, it’s sort of a “par for the course” kinda deal;  a very nice little mixer, however.  Cola fills out the sweetness and body the rum itself is missing. I’m prone to playing favourites, and I really like the 21 year old, so if I was in a good mood (which I was) I’d certainly give this one a pass on the strength of my appreciation for its sibs and its quality as a mixing base.  As a sipper, however, much as I’d like to state otherwise, I’d rather stay away from it.

Still, for a five year, that’s still polling ahead of the margin, I’d have to say.

Update: I ran four five year old rums including this one against each other a couple of years later, here, if you’re interested.

 

Mar 232013
 

El Dorado Single Barrel Demerara Rum EHP label unavailable

First posted 24 May 2010 on Liquorature. #020

***

I always admire some level of originality, whether it is in food, drink, a book, movies or simply the way something looks. In an era of mass production and conformity, too much of what we buy or see is an exact copy of the same thing we bought or saw somewhere else. On that basis, I was quite happy to see Demerara Distillers’ square, tall bottle of the El Dorado Single Barrel ICBU when it was presented at the April 2010 session of the club, and since it was not only a rum,  but from Guyana, I knew I was in for something interesting.  Maybe the review would not be positive, but at least I would not have been bored during the sampling.

The El Dorado rum is made with the only wooden pot still remaining in the world, from Plantation Uitvlught (hence the ICBU in the name), where a sugar factory has been functioning since 1753. It appears to be a blend as opposed to something specific and aged on its own, which is why once again there is no official age on the bottle – regular readers of my rum commentary will know this to be a personal bugbear of mine, though admittedly DDL is better than most in identifying senior blends with the age of the youngest component. Still, as it is somewhat lighter than the Special Reserve 15 year old – this may come from the fact that it does originate from a single barrel –  I venture a guess that the main component of the blend is a ten or twelve year old (it is a curious matter that the DDL site makes no mention of this rum at all).

The rum is a deep bronze redolent of burnt Demerara sugar, with nice legs hinting at a full, dark body. A certain woodiness attends the nose along with the faint toffee and sugar…it’s like a faint smell of new rain on sun-warmed wood chips, and nicely enhanced by the attendant caramel. In a way it reminded me of the aftersmell of burning canefields at harvest time on the East Bank of the Demerara, where I once lived.

Neat it was a pleasant sipper; to my mind the smoothness of the taste was defeated by the somewhat harsher tannins and woodsy tastes the nose had hinted at. In recent years, the only DDL offering I have had was the stellar 21 year old (also reviewed on this site), and there the sharp tang of wood (I’m not yet so refined as to tell you what kind) was quite muted and blended well into the overall flavour profile.  Here, less effort had been put in and the taste was therefore more pronounced.  Not really in a bad way, but it did put off the sweetness of the rum quite a bit, and made it somewhat drier. Nutmeg and cinnamon came through clearly on the palate, along with coconut and vanilla, all somewhat overwhelmed by the pungency of the wood bite.  I liked it better on ice, all things considered, and yes, as a mixer it’s excellent.  The finish is long, and the burn lingers and that is not necessarily pleasant for all: it was not for me.

I hesitate to pronounce any kind of definitive judgement on this rum. As a reviewer who looks for certain things to describe, I must concede its taste and body. It’s intriguing, flavourful and while not as unique as the Bundy, quite forceful in its own way: and as I said at the beginning of this rum review, I am always appreciative of efforts at originality – it hints at a blender who is willing to go outside the box. As a man who has friends over, it would not be the first thing I trot out for my guests, however, since it goes a bit over the trench and off the plantation, so to speak.  Oh, it’s a rum all right, and quite a good one: just a shade different…enough so that most people might take a glass or two out of curiosity, but then shrug and move on to more convival and comfortingly familiar fare.

Mar 232013
 

D3S_6898

First posted Feb 19, 2010 on Liquorature.

(#015. 88/100)

Deep, smooth, elegant, complex, affordable. Brilliant rum catering to all my tastes.

***

It seems to be a cruel irony that I always find the rums I desperately want to buy and take a taste of when (a) my frugal better half is casting baleful glares in my direction,  (b) my friend The Bear is unavailable to assist in the sampling and (c) cash is short…or at least, pay day is nowhere in sight, which amounts to the same thing.  All three were in evidence this Friday, when, for reasons we shall not get into here, I was in the Calgary Airport liquor store.  Now why they would have a store in a place that does not allow you to bring the good stuff aboard except in checked luggage (at which every West Indian I ever met would blanch, shudder and mutter that “dem peepl nah gat sens…is where else me go drink it?”) escapes me, but I ended up snagging one of the three bottles I was after: the Demerara Distilleries El Dorado Special Reserve 21 Year Old.

For those unfortunate souls not from the West Indies, or the even sadder ones who know nothing about Guyana, let it be said that two mighty local distilleries vie for control of the local and export market: Banks DIH and Demerara Distilleries.  There isn’t a Guyanese alive, of this I am convinced, who does not recall the sniff of fermenting sugar as he passes Diamond Estates to or from the airport.  This is where DDL has its base of operations, and this is where they blend the elite little package that I prepared to sample some thousands of miles away.

For a rum costing close to a hundred, the packaging is surprisingly cheap printed thin cardboard, but okay.  It’s what was within that I was after.  DDL matures this baby in used oak whisky and bourbon barrels, and the aroma of the cork bears this out.  The aroma was a pungent mix of burnt sugar, spices, soft and thick, chopped fruit in a black cake, butterscotch and caramel, molasses and smoke and I dunno…perhaps some oak, all blended very smoothly and almost inseparably in there.  A first taste neat and then another on the rocks made it clear that DDL put some effort into making this a somewhat dry rum (more so than the 15 year old), but it developed on the palate very nicely, and I think The Bear would agree that it was enhaced by the whiskey notes, the same way he really appreciated the Renegade 1991.  The sheer amount of tastes coming through was astounding: chocolate, coffee, mocha, truffles, raisins, dates,  black currants and blackberries, anise, licorice, molasses…each flavour chased its way genteelly up one side of my palate and down the other.

Very very smooth, hardly any bite on the way down. And a long finish, where those sweet highlights come out and almost, but not quite, overpower all the other spices.

Good stuff this. At 40% it is like caramel velvet going down, and it’s one of those like the English Harbour 25, that I would not tamper with, it’s that good…no coke for this baby.  It can’t class with the English Harbour all the way (at half the price, that would have been practically a miracle), but I’ll tell you this…it gives similar price point rums like the Appleton Master Blender’s Legacy a run for its money. It may disappoint on a second tasting, but thus far, for me, it’s one of the better neat rums I’ve ever tasted, and it wasn’t wasted money.  Too bad the Club was not meeting this week…I would have loved to bring it along for an introduction.

Update: three weeks later the Bear and I sampled this together for my second go-around on the bottle.  While his tongue had already been desensitized by the English Harbour Five we’d been sipping for the previous half hour (he agrees this is one of the great SDRs around), he was clean-bowled by the sheer quality of this 21-year. Unlike me he took no umbrage at the cheap packing, since, in his view, it does not add to the price and what you get is what you pay for. An interesting point.  But after he wiped his misty eyes dry, he said that this was such a smooth, well-balanced rum that it might even be better than the EH-25. Looks like I’m not the only one to think this way.

Update October 2017

I have done a complete re-tasting and re-assessment of the ED21 and appreciated it the same way, noted the failings more clearly (mostly to do with strength and additives), scored it slightly lower…and named it one of the Key Rums of the World.

error: Content is copyrighted. Please email thelonecaner@gmail.com for permission .