Smooth, soft, voluptuous Tomatin-cask-finished solera rum that expresses its admiration for your awesomeness without coyness or complexity, just unalloyed, warm affection. And a bit of a quirky side.
You are entirely within your rights to ask what the number actually means in the context of a solera’s given “age”. Generally accepted useage holds that it does not mean the oldest or youngest component of the blend, but the average of them all: which is no more than proper given that the solera process is based on a percentage of the rums in one level of barrels being progressively poured (and mixed) with barrels containing yet other percentages in another level over a period of many years. The Bicentenario out of Venezuela, for example, claims that rums as old as eighty years of age are components of the final product (hence the price)…but no solera maker I’ve ever researched makes any mention of how much of each age forms the final blend, though sometimes you are informed of how long that final blend is itself aged.
None of this would be more than an academic exercise unless it was for the fact that since we are never quite sure what percentage of what age is in our “average x years” solera, we therefore are never certain whether the price we pay is worth what we are getting (unless we get a taste first, in which case…). However, some general observations I’ve made is that soleras are sweeter and smoother than the average, get better the higher the number is, a bit pricier, and are much liked (look no further than the Ron Zacapa 23)….yet lack something in the way of real complexity, real depth…real oomph. I like them just fine, and they sip quite well, mind you, so let these remarks not dissuade you. When I meet persons who know they want to try one of my rums, but not which one, it’s almost inevitably a solera I trot out, ‘cause I know they’ll enjoy it.
One of the best I’ve ever tried is the Opthimus 25, originating in Dominican Republic, home of the Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo (and Matusalem) and bottled by Oliver&Oliver, a company in existence since the mid 19th century and founded by the Cuban family of Juanillo Oliver, a Catalan/Mallorcan emigre. Abandoning Cuba in 1959, members of the family re-established the company in the early nineties in the DR after finding the supposed original recipe for their forebears’ rum. They also produce the Cubaney line, and the sub-par Opthimus 18 (at a jelly-kneed 38%) and the fully awesome Opthimus 15 (which may be the best of the lot simply because it is a shade younger and has therefore not been smoothened out so much as to eviscerate its more complex nature). The 25 I tasted was bottle 795 of 1350 the 2011 production run, and cost an eye-glazing €108 for the 500ml bottle pictured above.
Like most soleras I have tried, this 43% ABV version was warm and soft and billowy to the nose, with scents of caramel and burnt sugar being subtly upstaged by nutmeg, banana and cinnamon…and an odd kind of brininess hinted at, not driven home with a bludgeon to the schnozz. And the label makes it clear why: the rum was finished in Tomatin malt whisky casks in Scotland (no info is given as to how long, alas). That’s quite different from many other rums, which finish in wine casks of some sort (though Cadenhead, you’ll recall, does have the Laphroaig-finished Demerara rum). I shrugged and passed on – after all, the feinty wine notes of the Rum Nation products enhanced the overall profile, so who was to say this was bad? Not I.
The arrival was also a bit off the beaten track, with the brininess I had noted sticking around as if to see wh’appenin’ (as my West Indian squaddies would say); a bit sweet, a bit salty, like biscuits in a teriyaki sauce (I kid you not). There was a touch of iodine-like peat in there, but the rum itself was brown-sugar-sweet and smooth and strong enough not to be overwhelmed by it, and that sly touch of mischief appealed to me a lot, a fact aided by a lovely, warm finish with no hint of malice or bile in spite of the 43% strength, redolent of caramel and breakfast spice (and yup, that touch of brine again, sneaking in through the back door). Honestly, this reminded me nothing so much as of the lovely brown-skinned, dark-eyed Guyanese lasses I regularly fell in and out of love with in my teenage years…warm, friendly, smart, inviting, funny and with just a touch of the flirt to keep me at bay.
I’m going to go on record as saying this is a pretty goodrum, it beats out the embarassingly underproofed 18, and yup, it’s a bit pricey; still, for my money it is eclipsed by the cheaper 15, the same way some believe the El Dorado 15 is a better rum than the 21 or 25 (my father among them). I don’t often hold with such uninformed opinions from my supposed elders and purported betters, dogmatically held and long (and loudly) proclaimed. Yet in this case I have to concede that while the 25 is a really well put-together rum which presses all the right buttons (and loves me, unlike all the aforementioned lasses, who probably had better sense), it somehow, through a subtle loss of alchemy, fails to quite be the Prime it may have been meant to be. Note that there are other variations of the 25 out there, some weaker, some finished in different casks
Let that not stop you from trying it if you have a chance, though. You won’t be sorry. It’s a lovely rum.
I sampled this in 2012, and going at it again in 2016 suggested how my preferences and perceptions charged. There’s an undercurrent of sweetness to it I had not noticed before. I have not done an in-depth check for additives but it’s likely (based on taste alone), so caveat emptor.