Too light for a five year old, and almost too delicate to be a rum at all.
It says a lot for my collection and where I store it that occasionally, in pawing around searching for a possible Friday night sundowner, I run across a bottle I forgot was there and which is not even opened, let alone reviewed. Such is the case with the Juan Santos 5 year old, which is the last of the Columbian rums from this lineup yet to be addressed (the others are the Café, the 9 year old, 12 and 21).
Five year old rums can be considered as good introductions to a maker’s rum range, because they are not cheap mixing blends that have an indifference to their ageing bordering on the contemptuous. On the contrary, they are aged for the requisite five years, some care is taken in the blend of fives that make the final product, and they serve as useful, low-level introductions to the better rums up the scale (though some argue that they are in many cases excellent and even better rums in and of themselves, more so than the pricier products). Think of five year olds, then, as the spiritous equivalent of a decently tricked-out Toyota Corolla…it’s cheap, it’s reliable, it works well, it’s extremely versatile, and you can go up or down the value chain from there.
The flip side of this last comparison is that a Corolla is, let’s face it, just a bit bland. There’s no oomph to the thing, no exhilarating who’s-your-Daddy-now moment. The Juan Santos 5 was a bit like that, and if you doubt me, just nose the hay-coloured, medium bodied spirit. There is almost nothing here to be analyzed at all, and when I did so four or five times, the scents were so light that about all I could pick out were traces of vanilla, faint burnt sugar notes, and the barest hint of cinnamon. The upper ranges of the this line shared similar issues, yet in those there was a sense of underlying structural complexity where firmness of taste had not been eviscerated as much, and that presented in the sort of fine noses which this one seems to be still searching for.
On the palate things weren’t redeemed much: the lightness of the medium bodied rum noted above carried over into the general mouthfeel — which, while gentle and almost soft with just the faintest bite of youth to it, gave practically nothing back to the taster. Citrus zest, the same sly vanilla hint, and barely a trace of what one might loosely term a “rum profile.” It presented some briny notes at the end, but my contention is, so what? The rum faded well and long, was a bit heated and spicy, with that salty trace persisting, but again, no new tastes or sensations emerged even at this last stage of the game, beyond those already identified.
I confess to being disappointed. It was too bland to be a sipper, too tame, too difficult to tease tastes from, and while mouthfeel and fade were good, the lack of clear complex flavours sink this baby for me as a sipper. So, can it be a decent mixer? Well, maybe – whatever additional ingredients are added had better be the equivalent of pastel shades, because clear and strong cocktail additions would shred the subtle tastes the rum does have. A cola would probably terminate the poor thing with extreme prejudice.
I’m going to give this rum 74 points, primarily for aspects which I think are cool and work well (relative smoothness, good fade, lovely mouthfeel for something so young are high points). But given the quality of other members of the food chain – five year old rums in general and older members of the Juan Santos line in particular – to me that’s damning it with faint praise. I went in really wanting to praise the Juan Santos Five (not least because I loved its older relatives), but alas, stayed only long enough to bury it.