May 042020
 

There was a very good reason why I took this bottle off a shelf and tried it, even when surrounded by many other rums from equally proud old houses, better made, stronger, of greater quality, produced to more exacting standards, with less kerfuffling oin the label. And that was because I was evaluating Flor de Caña’s entry-to-mid-level rum to see whether it could or should be named to the Key Rums series. The price was attractive, and I retained good memories of an epic bender with my Newfie squaddie Keenan, where we polished off a bottle in labba time on his deck while discoursing on method, critiquing pure reason and waxing poetical on ethical conundrums.

At the time, I had long been a fan of the Flor rums, and they were among my favourite of the first 100 reviews written here, including the original 7 year old I had cut my baby rum teeth on. But back in 2010, they were not the same rums I was drinking now, nor was the same person doing the drinking. Ten years ago, for example, they really did say “7 años” on the label, and not just the deceptive looking numeral 7 without any elaboration at all. The completely meaningless, clueless, pointless and useless — but evocative — “slow aged” and “handcrafted” monikers was on both bottles, but now they had gone a step further and trademarked the former, just to make sure, I guess, that somebody else didn’t come up with the time dilation effects of being around a glass of the stuff. These days, I just pass that kind of stuff with some impatience and get right into the glass.

The nose started decently enough – warm, fruity, welcoming.  It was a bit too sharp for easy sniffing, and the burn of cheap acetone and furniture polish denigrated the experience some. Still, what came after was pleasant – blancmange, bananas, cigar smoke, raisins and some molasses, a bit of tinned peaches, nothing too out of left field, or too aggressive. For a column still product pushed out at 40% ABV, it was all right, and didn’t blow the roof off, or fade into tasteless bland listlessness that sometimes characterizes such bottom shelf products.

The palate really needed work.  There was quite a bit more than the nose, mind — bitter chocolate, almonds, orange peel, stale cigar smoke (in an unventilated bar the day after a late close – ever been in one of those?), black tea, some brown sugar and brine, sweet soya, molasses, and the further bitterness of wet charcoal and ashes.  The problem was, the whole palate was unbalanced and weak.  I don’t say that entirely because of the strength, though that didn’t help, but because there everything was so dialled down and faint that it took me the best part of an hour to dissect it…and worse, the discordant pieces clashed and banged against each other without harmony, and instead of leading to the quiet glide of a smooth finish, it shoved brine and caramel and vanilla roughly down the gullet and pronounced itself satisfied it had given what had been paid for.

So, after trying it and feeling a distinct sense of being let down, I had to concede that the passage of ten years had changed me and my profile preferences, as well as, probably, the company.

It’s possible that the now-famous 2015 Vice magazine hit piece (about Flor’s purported responsibility for Chronic Kidney Disease which was killing workers at an alarming rate, which was long on inconvenient truths and short on contradictory evidence or Big Picture, but that nevertheless caused a partial bartender’s boycott of their rums in North America) took Flor by surprise.  And in their scrambling to retain market share and recover from the mountain of bad press, they started to cut corners to save money.  Or maybe they just misread the tea leaves, completely ignored the head of steam that pure single rums were just starting to make and went cheap and mass market and standard strength, instead of to the niche top end where real profits lie.

Whatever the case for the devolution of the rum from its progenitor, it cannot be considered as being an undiscovered steal. It’s not the same rum I had back then. Is it younger?  No way to tell — it’s a blend now, and some of the trust the company had once possessed has now evaporated, so who’s to tell? The important take-away is that drinking it didn’t make the hours fly faster, just slower, enough to get the tasting over and done with, and with less enjoyment.  A decent rum this was. A good mixing agent, yes, surely.  A key rum, though? Not really – it is, in point of fact, quite a bit less.

(#723)(76/100)


Other notes

My low-to-middling opinion here is something of a minority.  Several others quite liked it, so if you want some balance to my snark, check these guys out:

Apr 132020
 

Of all the Central American rums I’ve tried, Nicaraguan rums from the Flor de Caña facilities probably are the least like that light Spanish style so popularized by Bacardi. They inhabit a tasting style niche that isn’t quite Latin (or Cuban, if you will), but something that blends the light column still taste with something a bit deeper and richer. It makes for a nice amalgam, though it must be said that their own rums don’t always showcase that effectively, and sometimes it takes an indie to make the point with a single barrel expression. Not as a rule, not consistently, but occasionally, like here, yes.

Black Adder had done some intriguing work with their 12 YO back in 2015, and the Compagnie des Indes has released another Nicaraguan single barrel rum I quite liked, the 2004-2016 11 YO which illustrated the depth of such rums nicely. That one was fruit-forward with background notes of tobacco and spices, and possessed a certain plush softness I wasn’t expecting (previously my experience had been with Flor de Caña’s main line of commercial blended rums). So I was curious how a 17 year old rum from the Compagnie ranked against those two, and whether that additional five or six years of ageing (continental) made a discernible difference.

It did, I think. It almost seemed like there was some pot still action going on behind the scenes, upon a first sniff – rubber, salt, esters and acetone, a little paint thinner. Also a nice olive and briny note, set off by sweeter aromas of tinned peaches or apricots in syrup. Some nuts and cereals backed up the chorus, and the real takeaway was the impressive manner in which the balance among these competing aspects was maintained, with no single scent dominating the experience. Even a vague salty rottenness of of overripe cashew fruit (the ones with the external seeds), added rather than detracted from the overall complexity and it was quite a bit better than the 2004 11 YO I brought out of mothballs to do the comparison.

On the palate the rum started off with something of a different vibe: the estery fruitiness I had smelled changed to a delightful sprightly young bubble gum, mint and menthol combo which opened the show in fine style.  The rum felt thinner than the nose had suggested, and sharper, but that was likely just a function of the high ABV (64.9%) and again, it felt like it had more richness and depth than either the Blackadder or the 11 YO I was using as comparators.  With water, additional notes crept out: honey, dates, nougat and apricots (minus the tin or the syrup this time). There were some vague sensations of oak tannins, aromatic tobacco, caramel, vanilla and a little bit of molasses backing things up, leading to a very long, dry finish of fruits, nuts, honey and coconut shavings.

My personal opinion is that some water might be useful to aid in taming the beast and bringing out subtler flavours that might otherwise be cowed (and there are a lot of those). This is one of those cases where perhaps toning the rum down to an ABV more in the mid-fifties might have paid dividends: nevertheless, I can’t complain with what Florent has achieved here, which is to coax a sterling profile out of a difficult and complex high proofed spirit. And although the Danes were the only ones who got this rum at this strength back in the day, Nicaraguan rums at full proof remain a staple of the Compagnie’s releases, all of which can trace their descent back to the quality of what was envisioned five years ago, in this deserving and near unnoticed release.

(#718)(85.5/100)


Other notes

  • 240 bottle outturn, from Barrel #NCR-30
Mar 262013
 

First posted 18 January 2011 on Liquorature.

A better than average presentation, for a rum that supercedes its age 

(#062. 85/100).

***

The Flor de Caña 21 is a good example of ensuring you know what you’re buying before you fork out your hard earned pieces of eight.  I’m being redundant here (most other online reviews make mention of this), but I note the matter because all other Caña products have their age statement clearly and unambiguously front and centre: 4 yr old, 5 yr old, 7 yr old, 12 yr old, 18 yr old.  You can hardly avoid that: it’s on the front of the bottle and if you miss it, you aren’t paying attention in your hurry to peruse the price information.  But the veinte uno doesn’t habla in this manner. The 21 doesn’t refer to the age, but the century for which it was bottled, and it’s actually a fifteen year old, which is noted in small gold lettering on the back. And this may in fact be reflected in the price: I paid ~$70 for it, and one would expect a 21 year old to be closer to, if not exceeding, a hundred.

Presentation was first rate – while I would have preferred a box or a tin for something this aged, I could live with the blue bag and the matching opaque blue bottle, since I’m a sucker for originality (and recall, the brilliant 18 year old doesn’t even have the bag, let alone a box). The rum itself pours into the glass in a tawny amber colour; it presents slow fat legs, for which I’m beginning to run out of amusing metaphors to describe: let’s liken it on this occasion to a Bourda fishwife’s plump gams

The nose in this thing is, quite frankly, outstanding.  It’s deceptive as well, because it starts out as a caramel-molasses scent, very smooth and hardly stinging your schnozz at all…and then morphs into a clear, clean floral and herbal scent that is delicate and assertive at the same time (I know no other way to express this lovely nose – most dark rums are either medicinal or overwhelm with burnt sugar and molasses, but not this one).  In fact, I liked this so much that I spent an inordinate amount of time dipping my beak into it just to revel in its pleasures.

The body is medium (the bottle says full-bodied, but I’m not entirely convinced of that), just enough sweet mixed with just enough flavour and alcohol.  The profile on the tongue is something else again: rich, caramel and sugar undertones, bound together by molasses and – once more – that unique hint of clean flowers, just faint enough to draw attention and balance out the muskier sugars, yet not so much as to overwhelm.  The balance really is quite good. The 21 exits in a smooth and gentlemanly fashion, with barely a sting, and yet here’s a bit of a letdown: the finish is shorter than one might expect. An excellent nose and taste and coating on the tongue and throat, you understand: just short, as if the gentleman was visiting a house of ill repute, and now, having completed his business, wishes only to put on his hat and depart the premises with all due dispatch.

Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) rum is made in Nicaragua, and is one of the most consistently good dark rums I’ve ever had, at any age (I simply adored the 18 year old). The Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua was founded in 1937, though workers of the San Antonio sugar refinery had been distilling their own festive hooch for local celebrations for maybe half a century before that. The success of the distilling company led to expansion and to exporting rums to other countries in Central and South America by the late 1950s. Following on the heels of the trend established by DDL in 1992, they began to issue aged premium rums (though stocks were surely laid down before that…after all, when was the 18 year old I had in 2009 put into a barrel?). And since 2000, these rums have been recipients of numerous awards for excellence. No argument from me on that score.

It’s an overworked and abused cliche that 20% of Americans can’t find their own country on a map, but this is surely not an issue with anyone who knows his rums.  Within the subculture of us Cane Lovers, the great spirits of the small nations in the Caribbean and South America stand out as beacons of light and pride for their makers…and none of us who ever taste one of these great drinks is any doubt where Venezuela, Guatemala, Guyana or Nicaragua is.  We know the nations, we know the geography and we know the history.  We know of and care about, above all, the premium products of these small states, and what makes them special.  In increasingly disconnected, fragmented world, rums like the Flor de Caña 21 are almost like national symbols in and of themselves: they have the power to bring us together and educate us beyond their fleeting, ephemeral tastes.