Mar 292020
 

Let’s dispense with the origin story right away. Call me jaundiced, but after doing this for over ten years, I not only roll my eyes when I read about rum heritage and pirates and prohibition heroes and (in this case) rum-running schooners, but fight a near-overwhelming urge to fall asleep. The facts are as follows: this is a rum named after a boat; it is made by Bermudez in the Dominican Republic; launched in 2012; it is claimed to be 18 years true ageing (a statement that is something of a bone of contention); it is a light, standard-strength Latin-style ron, imported to the US by the spirits division (35 Maple Street) of a direct-to-trade wine merchant (The Other Guys Inc) owned by a spirits company that itself had started with wine (3 Badge Beverage Company). 

Kirk & Sweeney have always maintained, as have those who talked to Bermudez, that the rum is aged a full X years (12, 18 or 23). The two points that make people uneasy with that statement are the labels, where it says, as in this case, “18 Years” and not “18 Years Old,” (thereby skirting any possible accusations of of misrepresentation) and the price, which is deemed by many to be simply too cheap for a rum that old. Moreover, the profile doesn’t seem to be quite … there, and if it needs help from what are clearly discernible additions, you can see why the suspicions fester.

This is not to say that there isn’t some interesting stuff to be found. Take the nose, for example.  It smells of salted caramel, vanilla ice cream, brown sugar, a bit of molasses, and is warm, quite light, with maybe a dash of mint and basil thrown in.  But taken together, what it has is the smell of a milk shake, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of startling originality – not exactly what 18 years of ageing would give you, pleasant as it is. It’s soft and easy, that’s all.  No thinking required.

On the palate this continues, and to the shortcomings of a rather straightforward series of tastes – more vanilla, molasses, salted caramel, almonds, cream cheese, a touch of leather and yes, more ice cream – is added the strength, 40% ABV, and just too much sweetness, which is simply not enough to make any of the flavours pop and sparkle. It’s a thin juice, over-sweet, over-vanilla-ed, a slumgullion, and the short and unexceptional finish which just repeats the same notes, does more to bore than impress.  We could perhaps permit the K&S 12 year to pass muster on that basis – for something half again as old, such indulgence is not available, sorry.

Now, that’s my considered opinion. But that said, the rum has had fervent adherents who really stand by its charms, though it is unclear whether that’s because they don’t have a decent base of comparison, or simply prefer and are used to light rums. Chris Nell of Drinkhacker gave it a solid A- in 2015. Kara Newman awarded 93 points in an undated Wine Enthusiast mini-review, and Influenster gave it 4½ stars out of 5 which was also the general opinion of the many comments on that tasting note. Flaviar aggregated it at 8.5/10. Eric Zadona of EZdrinking probably nailed it when he remarked in an unscored 2017 review, that it would appeal to the Zacapa-loving crowd. The two best reviews available online – none of today’s crop of regulars have bothered – come from Diving & Chilling, in an lengthy unscored essay that touched on all the high (and low) points and disliked it, and Dave Russell of Rum Gallery who did the same in his crisp style, and loved it (9.5 points). And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that group-sourced scoring website Rum Ratings, where the majority of the 143 posters rated it 8 or 9 points.

It may have fallen out of favour with today’s more educated and vocal rum drinkers, what with the increased popularity of the Caribbean full proofs from the estates and distilleries, and the European independents. If it sells briskly in the US (from whence most of the positive commentary originates), perhaps it’s because it sells in the US, and part of the reason for that may be that they are so starved for choice that if it looks cool and tastes halfway decent (which this does), it’ll move. So, summing up, if what you’re after is a cool looking bottle within which are ensconced light, unaggressive flavours, you’ve come to the right place.  Step up and pays your money because so as long as you like rums like the Dictador, Diplomatico, Zacapa, Opthimus 18 or El Dorado 12, then you will be quite pleased with what you’re getting here.

(#714)(79/100)


Other Notes

Because the case of its doubted age is not proven with certainty, I have elected to continue using the “Years Old” descriptor in the title…but I use it with reservations.

Feb 172020
 

Barceló has slipped somewhat in our mental map of rum companies to watch, which comes as no surprise to those noting the current dominance which the Big Countries and the Big Names have in defining what we “should” be drinking. But ⅓ of the “Three Bs” of the Domincan Republic has been around for a while, releasing their light Spanish-style rons day in and day out, and if their primary markets are elsewhere than the homes of the online commentariat who flog Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados almost without pause, then at least their level of expertise shows no sign of flagging.

Given I rated the company’s Anejo a rather dismissive 61 in 2011 and shrugged off the previous 38% Imperial edition (not the same as this one) with 78 a couple of years later, that last remark might sound strange.  But just because lighter column-still rons released at less-than-living-room-strength don’t turn my crank does not mean I don’t appreciate what they’re trying to do — I just wish they’d read the tea leaves and try harder and go stronger, if you catch my drift. 

Here we have a rum (or ron) that ticks all the usual boxes: it’s a molasses-based spirit run through a 5-column still, then aged 10 years in American oak and given a further two years’ ageing (I hesitate to use the word “finishing” for a secondary maturation that long) in French Château d’Yquem barrels. There are no additives according to their blurbs, which must be a recent thing, since it had been tested on initial (2011) release at 27g/L, but ok. When it first came out, the outturn was supposedly some 9,000 bottles annually, but the latest information I was given in 2017 was that it sold so well that this has now been upped to around 20,000.

There’s more details and notes which I’ll go into below, but this is enough to be going on with for the moment, let’s run through the tasting:

Nose first. Well, while conceding its soft warmth and easy languid charm, the truth is there’s not much really going on, nasally speaking: some citrus mixed up with deep caramel and brown sugar, and an intriguing scent of vanilla, charred barrels and burnt sugar and the ashiness of a dying coal fire.  Sweet, reasonably robust – better than the sub-40% stuff I’ve had from them before – but lacking real complexity that would enthuse me more.

The palate rewards rather more attention.  It’s warm and easy-going on the tongue, texture is nice. Great after-dinner sip to go with the ice cream. It tastes initially of caramel, ripe and mild yellow fruits without any aggro, raisins, prunes, and some faint licorice, ginger and vanilla. The 43% is a welcome boost from the milquetoast nonsense of the 37.5% expression, but in a way also serves to draw attention to its own limitations, because in a rum like this we’re looking for complexity, some punch, and a certain individuality that boosts the mildness of its light-distillate origins – and that simply isn’t here.  This is even clearer on the finish, which is soft, quick and puffs away like steam – it provides no additional insight into why you should buy the rum to begin with.

Without completely dissing the Barcelo – I know it is made for an audience who are completely dialled into, and in tune with, its laid-back profile, and they are the ones who provide its core audience and keep sales robust – let me just suggest that like many rums of its ilk, it doesn’t deliver enough. It lacks panache, oomph, a certain force.  It teases without coming through, and is too people-pleasing for real risk, too generic for specificity. That’s its downfall for the rum enthusiast, and, paradoxically, its raison d’être for those with more tolerant, inclusive and less exacting standards.

(#701)(81/100)


Other Notes

  • The Imperial has always been a 10 year old since I first tried it (and as far as I could tell, ever since it was first made back in 1980; but in 2011 Barceló brought together squirrelled-away casks of this 10 YO and matured them a bit further, to create the Imperial Premium Blend, later re-christened the 30 Anniversario, and started slapping the numeral “30” on the central circle of real estate on the bottle.  This does not intimate that it is 30 years old, but that it’s the 30th anniversary of the first issue of the Imperial. 
  • All Barceló rons are made in the Dominican Republic (not in Dominica – the two are separate nations), where the company shares the island with the other two “B”s – Bermudez and Brugal, both of which are older. Barceló Export Import has been in business since 1930, has always been a rum producer, and remains to this day a privately held company run by men who bear the name still.  Julian Barceló, the founder, hailed from Spain – the name is actually Catalan, though I read he was from Mallorca himself – and arrived in the DR in 1929. His company soon became a very large and profitable enterprise, expanding his line of products to differing rums starting in 1935. By the 1980s the company became one of the biggest in the country, and expanded its market base by aggressively promoting exports – Spain was and continues to be a prime market for the rums.
Mar 132019
 

By today’s standards, Brugal, home of the very good 1888 Gran Reserva, made something of a fail in the genus of white rums with this Blanco.  That’s as much a function of its tremblingly weak-kneed proof point (37.5%, teetering on the edge of not being a rum at all) as its filtration which makes it bland to the point of vanilla white (oh, wait….). Contrast it with the stern, uncompromising blanc beefcakes of the French islands and independents which blow the roof off in comparison: they excite amazed and disbelieving curses — this promotes indifferent yawns.

To some extent remarks like that are unfair to those who dial into precisely the coordinates the Blanco provides — a light and easy low-end Cuban style barroom mixer without aggro or bombast, which can just as easily be had in a sleepy backroad rumshop someplace without fearing for one’s health or sanity after the fact. But they also encapsulate how much the world of white rums has progressed since people woke up to the ripsnorting take-no-prisoners braggadocio of modern blancs, whites, clairins, grogues and unaged pot still rhinos that litter the bar area with the expired glottises of unwary rum reviewers.

Technical details are actually rather limited: it’s a rum aged for two years in American oak, then triple filtered, and nothing I’ve read suggests anything but a column still distillate.  This results in a very light, almost wispy profile which is very difficult to come to grips with.

Take the nose – it was so very faint. Being aware of the proof point, I took my time with it and teased out notes of Sprite, Fanta, sugar water, and watermelon juice, mixed up with the faintest suggestion of brine.  Further sphincter-clenching concentration brought out hints of vanilla and light coconut shavings, lemon infused soda water, and that was about all, which, it must be conceded, didn’t entirely surprise me.

All this continued on to the tasting.  It was hardly a maelstrom of hot and violent complexity, of course, presenting very gently and smoothly, almost with anorexic zen-level calm.  It was thin, light and lemony, and teased with a bit of wax, the creaminess of salty butter, coconut shavings, apples and cumin — but overall the Blanco makes no statement for its own quality because it has so little of anything.  Basically, it’s all gone before you can come to grips with it. Finish? Obviously the makers didn’t think we needed one, because there wasn’t really anything there.

The question I ask with rums like the underproofed Blanco is, who is it made for? – because that might give me some idea of why it was made the way it was. I mean, the Brugal 151 was supposed to be for cocktails and the premium aged anejos were for sipping, so where does that leave something as milquetoast as this?  Me, if I was hanging around with friends in a hot tropical island backstreet, banging the dominos down with a bowl of ice, cheap plastic tumblers and this thing, I would probably enjoy having it on the rocks. On the other hand, if I was with a bunch of my fellow rum chums, showing and sharing my stash, I’d hide it out of sheer embarrassment.  Because compared with the white rums which impress me so much more, this isn’t much of anything.

(#608)(68/100)


Other notes

Company background: Not to be confused with Dominica, the Dominican Republic is the Spanish speaking eastern half of the island of Hispaniola…the western half is Haiti.  Three distilleries known as the Three Bs operate in the DR: Bermudez in the Santiago area, the Santo Domingo distillery called Barcelo, and Brugal in the north coast. Brugal, founded in 1888, seems to be the largest, perhaps as a result of being acquired in 2008 by the UK Edrington Group (they are the makers of Cutty Sark, and also own McCallan and Highland Park brands), and perhaps because Bermudez succumbed to internecine family squabbling, while Barcelo made some ill-advised forays into the hospitality sector and so both diluted their focus, to Brugal’s advantage.  

There are other blancos made by Brugal: the Ron Blanco Especial, Blanco Especial Extra Dry, the 151 overproof, and the Blanco Supremo.  Only the Supremo is listed on their website (accessed March 2019) and seems to be available online, which implies that all others are discontinued. That said, the production notes are similar for all of them, especially the 2 year minimum ageing and triple distillation.

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rum…more like something of a “meh”.

(#280 / 81/100)

***

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of The Other Guy (a wine company).  And what a bottle it is – an onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label.  That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks.  Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn.  Oak?  What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream.  It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boring…there was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey.  There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sun – the primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot).  The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off  a whole lot better. Maybe it was just me – I simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla. 

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed.  Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum.  And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admit – whatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent.  Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate.  For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion: you can disregard this section

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rum…while some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about.  Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’t…which side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profile – the Opthimus 18 was what I thought about – but all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013…I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

Sep 062013
 

D7K_2901

 

A subtle, supple rum, undone by a lack of courage

(#178. 78/100)

***

Consider for a moment my score on the Barceló Imperial. A 78 rating for me is a decent rum, if nothing to write home about. For a premium product, it’s something of a surprise – so here I should state straight out that that score reflects primarily its lesser proof and maybe excessive ladling in of sugar, not any other intrinsic quality. Frankly, it could have been higher.

When I originally read the Barceló Imperial review from Josh Miller at Inu A Kena, I immediately fired off post on his site to ask him whether he got the 38% version I had been avoiding for over a year in Calgary, or whether he had something a shade more torqued up. Because when I’m springing for something that is being touted as a premium (even if I didn’t in this case), I’d rather have a rum that’s…well, a real rum. As it turns out, his was indeed 40%, while the one that Jay of Liquorature trotted out on my last meeting of the Collective prior to absconding, was the lesser proofed bottling.

You’d think that this 2% difference is minimal, but nope. It really isn’t. Consider first the nose on this attractively packaged, sleek looking bottle. Soft as sea breezes, sweet with scents of molasses, cashews (white ones), caramel, prunes and almonds…but all very quiet, slumbering almost, as delicate as the frangipani and white flowers which it called to memory. No intensity here at all, which is where it went south for me, trying to be attractive and pleasant to nose, but somewhat emasculated by a vague cloying sweetness.

This gentleness was mirrored in the taste and the feel on the palate as well. It was soft, warm, billowy, aromatic. It loved me and wanted to share its feelings. Toffee, slight citrus notes, apples and pears led off, with slowly emerging caramel and almonds following on. The mouthfeel was surprisingly “thick” — that’s the added sugar again — and that lesser alcohol content also made it somewhat (disappointingly) bland. Still, I must concede that the balance of the muskier, smokier, deeper sugar tones with the slightly acidic citrus and faint astringency was rather well done. The finish, which came as no surprise, was short, providing a closing sense of nuts and molasses.

D7K_2896

So all in all, a decent product, as I said, perhaps a shade too sweet for some, too damped down for others, even though there is some complexity hiding underneath. People who go in for softer rums, perhaps soleras or liqueurs, would have no problem drinking this one, I think. Those preferring a more aggressive disposition will disagree (I am one of these). I mean, this is touted as a premium rum, and its sexy shape and packaging reflect that, even if its price (around $50 in my location) seems somewhat low. Part of this might be its ageing, which is uncertain – I’ve read claims of components in the blend being as much as 6 or as much as 10 years, but since the official website makes no statement on the matter at all, I’d suggest that Barceló may still be tinkering with it and aren’t ready to make a definitive statement…yet.

One characteristic of underproofed products is that you get the taste without the strength; with added sugar you get thickness without complexity;  and this is like gorging on white bread, or a cheap hamburger – a few minutes later the taste is gone, you’re hungry again, there’s no buzz in sight, and you’re unfulfilled, wanting more. If that’s what Barceló are trying to do, all I can say is that they’ve succeeded swimmingly, ‘cause that bottle of yours is going to be finished in no time. Still, I wonder what my malt swilling amigos would make of this rum, those gentlemen who inhale aged cask-strength whiskies by the caseload and can barely sniff standard proof drinks without being snooty about it. I think they would probably make similar comments to mine – interesting notes, some delicacy harnessed to artistry in service of a fine sipping dram. But I’m sure they’d also say, sorry Ruminsky, we like you and all, but there’s just not enough buxom in the bodice and backside in the bustle, to make this rum worth lusting after.


Other Notes

Barceló hails from the Dominican Republic, where it shares the island with the other two “B”s – Bermudez and Brugal. They have been in business since 1930, when Julian Barceló (a Mallorcan emigre) founded the company, and Spain remains one of its primary markets, though they ship rum to some fifty countries these days.

 

Jun 252013
 

D3S_6879

A subtle, complex, tasty sipping rum

(#170. 85/100)

***

You don’t see many of the Brugal rums here — I’ve only ever reviewed one of them, years ago when I was starting to populate the site: that one got a review, a shrug and a meh (which in retrospect may have been a touch condescending, as was my initial scoring), and I remember it principally because of its really lovely finish. The 1888 Ron Gran Reserva Familiar is something else again, and perhaps it’s sad that we don’t get to see more shops carrying it, ‘cause it’s a pretty nifty drink, and deserves its accolades.

The Brugal 1888 is a fascinating synthesis of odd subtleties and traditional strengths that displays a solid character when matched against the other bottles I had on the table that day (the BBR Fiji 8 year old and the Plantation Barbados 5 year old, both of which it outclassed). Right off I admired the blue cardboard box, the elegant tall bottle and the metal tipped cork, because unlike my friend the Bear, I always did enjoy nifty presentation, and feel that special editions or top end products deserve no less even if it does mean a few extra pesos tacked on to the price (note that said Bear does not object to the extra pesos as long as he’s not forking out the dinero himself, and smiles like a cherubic Buddha whenever I do, as he helps himself to a taste).

The first thing I noted on the nose of this mahogany red rum was its clean lightness, redolent of coffee grounds, cocoa and dark chocolate, vanilla (not quite as evident as the Plantation), all mixed up with light floral hints, and a touch of blue or black grapes, apricots and nuts. And a dusting of cinnamon so light it almost wasn’t there. At 40% I wasn’t expecting a rampaging series of flavours to reach out and scratch my face off, and I didn’t get that, just a pleasant, orderly parade of notes, one after the other.

 D3S_6877

The medium light body was warm, but in no way overly spicy, more like a verbal dig in the ribs from a friend, spoken without malice – in fact it was smooth, and dry, but not briny or astringent in any way. Light chopped apples mixed it up with vanilla, kiwi fruits and freshly sliced papaya. And it was smooth, very nicely so, delivering further notes of white flowers, pears, some burnt sugar, caramel (not much), butterscotch wound about with a touch of oak. All in all it was a few subtle flavours coming together really well, with a clean exit, a little astringent and dry, lasting well and providing a last creamy breath of all the pleasant rum notes described above. No, it doesn’t have the growling power of darker, stronger (or older) Jamaicans or Guyanese rums, but I don’t think that’s how they envisaged it to begin with. It just was (and is) a really well put together sipping rum of some…calmness.

The source of its rather rich set of flavours of the Brugal 1888 derives from its double maturation, once in the standard American white oak casks that once held bourbon, the second in European oak casks once used for maturing sherry (that’s where all those fruity notes come from): if Brugal’s marketing is to be believed, McCallan’s own Master of Wood was instrumental in handpicking the casks, and the end product is a blend of rums aged five to fourteen years – that would, to purists who insist that any blend be age-labelled based on the youngest part of the blend, make it a five year old, but y’know, even if Brugal themselves make no such distinction…man, what a five year old it is.

 D3S_6876

Brugal is one of the 3 B’s of the Dominican Republic (eastern half of Hispaniola island…the west is Haiti) – Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo – and probably the largest. The company was formed in 1888 by Don Andres Brugal, and is now considering itself the #3 rum maker in the world by volume…again, if promo materials are to be believed. However, when you consider that #1 is Bacardi, #2 is probably the Tanduay, then that leaves Havana Club, Captain Morgan and McDowell scrabbling for the next three places…Brugal is somewhat of a lesser player compared to these behemoths, in my opinion, so you’ll forgive me for taking that remark with some salt.

Still, sales volume and their place in the rankings is not my concern. My issue is the character of this rum from the perspective of a consumer, and which in this case I enjoyed and liked and appreciated. Anniversary offerings are traditionally good rums with an extra fillip of quality: the Brugal 1888 succeeds on many levels, is a good sipping rum, and a worthwhile addition to any rum lover’s cabinet. I’d buy it again without hesitation, to drink when I’m not on top of the world, perhaps (I have the full-proof Demeraras for that), but certainly when I’m feeling a little more relaxed and at ease with the state of my life.

Other Notes

Since 2008, Brugal has been owned by the Edrington Group, the same parent company as MacCallan’s and Highland Park. That might account for the sherry maturation philosophy and the source of the barrels I noted above.

The company’s literature remarks that this is a rum for whisky lovers (which I assume would be the bourbon boys, not the Hebridean maltsters).

 

Apr 072013
 

D7K_6415-001

38% weakling, of pleasant taste approaching real complexity, but with no real assertiveness.

(#153. 78/100)

***

Originating in the Dominican Republic (home of the Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo brands), the Opthimus 18 artestinal rum is a solera rum, quite good, but too weak for me. It’s made, like the excellent Solera 25 whisky-finished version, by the firm of Oliver and 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 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 18 I tasted was bottle 4 of 316 in the 2011 production run, and cost €65 for the 500ml bottle pictured above.

The 18 twitches all too feebly. The nose, in spite of the rum’s relatively weak knees, did try its best to kick a bit, and evinced notes of cinnamon and breakfast spices, together with a faintly musty air, like biscuits and straw; a vegetal sort of nose, deepening gradually into caramel and burnt sugar notes. Quite gentle, all in all, with no heat or burn to turn one off, yet also lacking in a strong kind of aroma that would have made it score more highly.Want to know why I disdain underpfoof rums? Look no further, as this is a good example of the thinness and overall wussiness I don’t care for in rums (but full disclosure – my preferences run more to beefcakes greater than 40% these days, so your mileage may vary)..

The palate offered no real redemption. What struck me as sad about it was simply that while it tasted pretty good, had a scintillating background complexity that strove to emerge and recall the potential of both the 25 and the 15, it was too scrawny on the body and too weak on the taste buds to really tug at the senses; and therefore it could not offer a strong, assertive profile that would have made me appreciate it more. Caramel, sweet brown sugar, bananas and softer, riper fleshy fruits, some nutmeg and cinnamon and lemon grass, quite faint. Finish was short, aromatic, but like a one night stand, gave too little and was gone too quickly, taking your hard earned money with it.

D7K_6414

Opthimus 18 is aged by ex-Cuban master blenders via a solera process for eighteen years in total (so the oldest part of the blend will be that old, not the youngest). Oliver & Oliver uses rum stocks bought elsewhere, and ages them in oak barrels prior to final issue: they also have brands like Cubaney, Quohrum and Unhiq in the stable, though I have yet to try any of them, and they act as third part blenders to other companies as well. Given the plaudits they’ve received from other reviewers, all I can conclude that this is the runt of the litter, and somewhat of an aberration.

Summing up, a rum like this leaves me with too little. Those of you who bemoan my verbosity and essays that never end will love this one, because beyond the bare bones tasting notes, and my personal opinion, there’s not much I can give you. This solera rum shows all the evidence of being well made and well crafted, yet sinks itself at the end by not having the strength to go with its potential. In essence, then, this is an Opthimus that has yet to develop into a Prime.

***

 In this case, drinking it neat is recommended, it’s good enough for that. My relatively low score reflects a dissatisfaction with intensity and firmness of the tasting elements.

 

 

Mar 302013
 

 

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.

(#124. 86/100)

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.


Other notes

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.

Mar 272013
 

17141

First posted 27th February, 2010 on Liquorature.

(#102)(Unscored)

Having friends who will trot out cherished stocks of the good stuff for me to taste and comment on is always a plus.  Having those who share my interests in rum, and pick up obscure bottles from odd distilleries in faraway places is even better.  Granted every now and then one runs across paint thinner or liquified rat turds masquerading as rum, but in the main, the odds work in my favour. Still, though, I’ve had to take a leaf out of the Last Hippie’s book and always have a notebook on hand.  I may be fairly clever, but I’m somewhat prone to losing a few IQ points when having my sixth or seventh…or shev’nt’nth shot of…whu’ever. And that impacts on my note-taking, so I have to watch it.

Anyway it was with real delight that I saw this intriguing 15 year old rum from the Dominican Republic  joining its cousins the English Harbour 5, the Bundie, the El Dorado 21 and the Angostura Royal Oak on the table.  Now some might shake their heads and question my liver, my sanity or my ability to have so many competing rums swirling around my palate and still maintain my sobriety or sense of taste (which would be much degraded by the Bundie), but I exist to rise to challenges such as these, and sacrifice my finer feelings for the good of The Club.

A Super-Premium rum (whatever that might mean), this french-oak-barrel matured rum is the top of the line for the Ron Matusalem distillery which originated in Cuba in the 1800s, and which captured a fair share of the market right up to the point where some upstart johnny-come-lately called Fiddle…Fidelity…Fido…whatever (he had a beard and dressed in fatigues) took over from the US-backed dictatorship in 1959. The company was re-established in the USA and removed to the Dominican Republic in 2002 after one of the descendants of the founders gained full control of the company (the family branches had been feuding, leading to the brand’s decline). Interestingly, Matusalem’s master blenders are all descendants of the original founders as well, and are supposedly masters in the technique of solera blending originally developed for sherry and brandy, where barrels of rums from different stages in the maturation process are blended to produce the desired, unique blend (you can tell I love history, folklore and anecdotes about any subject). And while my bottle never noted it, this is a solera, which means the “15” on the label does not mean the youngest in the blend, but the average.

The Gran Reserva is a deep gold colour, though not quite dark; it looks like burnt honey. Not light either in body or colour or density. The nose contains strong indications of oak which, to my mind, drown out the subtler vanillas and toffee that linger better on the taste buds; and it is not as sweet as other offerings…they may have stinted on the sugar or caramel.  In my opinion, then, it does not impress when drunk neat or on ice – it is too much like a whiskey, in smell and body and taste (this may be a deliberate attempt to distinguish the product from other rums of equal vintage), and it burns going down, with a short and smoky finish, the way no good 15 year old should.  If I wanted whiskey I’d cross to the dark side and genuflect to the Scots, so on that level it fails.  However, I liked the taste and feel on the palate – the slightly higher density and long maturation period helps give it a really good, silky feel – I just don’t appreciate the taste that much.

That said, as a mixer with coke, whatever screams of outrage from purists, the thing is stellar. It has no such explosion of flavour as the EH5 did, but it develops a very solid, multi-layered and robust taste where the coke provides exactly the level of sugar that enhances the taste of the rum, to produce an excellent butterscotch taste that the silky texture of the rum goes with beautifully.

And that makes me conflicted, not least because I generally like soleras.  It seems that an aged sipping rum like this should not have to be mixed to enhance it to the level I rate so highly. I concede that this may partly be my sweet tooth and love of vanilla and caramel and butterscotch (that’s not butter made in Scotland, Curt, just in case you wondered), and partly my own preconceived notion of what a good sipping rum should be like.

Be that as it may, I believe a whiskey connoisseur, or someone with a different palate from mine, will love this rum.  As a mixer, I think it’s great — but why pay more for this when so many able, younger, cheaper mixers exist? The test of a good aged rum is whether it can stand on its own without adornment or enhancement. On that level, much as I like what comes out of this baby when coke is added to it, I must sadly state that it doesn’t measure up to its hype or pedigree when taken neat.

 

 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 9th February, 2011 on Liquorature

(#066. 61/100)

This is a weaker than usual, unloved product of a distillery that has better products up the food chain, but apparently refused to pay the same attention to this one.  It passes muster as a rum, but barely, and if you have choices and like stronger wares, this one won’t get you to part with your cash. If you want something stronger than a port or liqueur, but weaker than a real spirit, well,  I guess this is for you.

*

Right out of the bottle you get a sense of the relative weakness of this rum.  Perhaps it’s a measure of the forty percenters or even fifty percenters I’ve been sipping lately, but let’s face facts and concede that it’s also a relatively weak rum at a 37.5%, one which would make any maker of a 151 snicker a little. And that also makes the Ron Barceló weigh in dangerously close to being a liqueur, which this site is not in the business (yet) to review.

Ron Barceló, made in the Dominican Republic (not in Dominica – the two are separate nations), is a product of Barceló Export Import, which has been in business since 1930, has always been a rum producer, and remains to this day a privately held company run by men who bear the name still.  Julian Barceló, the founder, hailed from Spain – the name is actually Catalan –  and arrived in the DR in 1929.  His company soon became a very large and profitable enterprise, expanding his line of products to differing rums starting in 1935. By the 1980s the company became pone of the biggest in the contry, and expanded its market base by aggressively promoting exports – Spain was and continues to be a prime export market for the rums, of which the anejo reviewed here seems to be somewhat of a mid tier product.  Maybe it’s a sherry thing. Note that this is one of the “Three B’s” – Bermudez, Brugal and Barceló – of the DR, and the youngest.

A gold rum, Barceló poured into the glass and displayed the swiftly moving anorexic legs of a middle distance sprinter, judging from the haste with which the scooted back down into the body. The nose was quietly unimpressive: it had a bit of sting and spice to back up the scents of caramel, burnt sugar, bananas and perhaps a bit of coffee, but beyond that, there was very little, even after I went back to it a few minutes later, and again for a second and third nosing. I really didn’t know what to make of it: against the lack of depth and power imparted by a lower alcohol content is a slightly smoother, less astringent nose imparted by that very same lack. Bit of a schizo product, really.

The downward spiral continued on the palate: thin, a little harsh (if I was unkind I’d say bitchy, but that would be implying a strength the rum does not possess). The flavours are unassertive, though one must concede that you do get unambiguous notes of caranel, molasses and brown sugar, and perhaps a shade of citrus.  But none really “tek front” and either elbowed the others aside, or asserted a pleasing marriage of the lot.  You got these, and…nothing.  You could almost say it was boring.  And the finish?  Well, uninspiring – smooth and short, with no sting worthy of the name (let alone a burn) and some kind apologetic whiff of weak spirit at the back of the throat, a tired reminder that Barcelo had some alcohol content after all. Undistinguished and unremarkable, to me.  The whole product smacks of some kind of “good enough” philosophy in its provenance that I find vaguely affronting.

In sum, I’m going to have to go negative on this one.  With respect to other distillers’ products from the same half of the island, I didn’t care for the Bermudez Ron Añejo Anniversario, to which I gave an indifferent opinion, but that one, at 40%, was marginally better than this anemic offering. The Brugal on the other hand blew both of the other “Three B’s” away on better body, better taste and a phenomenal finish.  Mind you, as I noted in the former review, people who like cognacs and whiskies and drier libations might find lots to favour about the Barceló – I merely suspect that it’s lower proof will alienate those same people.  Who wants an underproof when there’s so much standard 40% or higher out there for the same cost, with a bolder, more assertive profile? I mean, the only reason I don’t classify this as a liqueur right away is because it is not sweet or heavy enough.  But it’s close. No wonder the maker’s website gives so little information on the Barcelo: there’s precious little information to give.

So there we have it.  The indifference of manufacture, coupled with an underproofing of the Barcelo, undoes what could be termed passable work by the blenders — and therefore I must conclude that it appears that it is a throwaway product, something without much care and love lavished upon it.  It’s an also-ran for older, more aged, better blended efforts from the same company.  It tries to walk with the big dogs, but for my money, alas, it just ends up peeing like a puppy.