Mar 272013
 

 

***

A more rambunctious, slightly less cultured younger brother of the same company’s 21 year old rum –  complex, hearty, smooth and a full-out tonsil-pleaser.

(#113.  83/100)

*

If the Rum Nation Panama 18 year old had been released on its own without further statement, as it first was in 2000 (I got the 2010 release), it would have been a success by any yardstick, and indeed I make no bones about this – it’s damned good.  It does not fail next to its older sibling…it’s simply a shade different.  And though the 21 year old is better (yes it is), this should not diminish the achievement of Rum Nation in making the 18 at all.

As if in counterpoint to the faux-silver-lined box of the 21, the 18 comes in a standard cardboard enclosure with a peephole, much like a three dimensional equivalent of the buff envelope containing your gas bill, though undoubtedly more pleasant to receive. The bottle was a straightforward barroom style one, with a plastic cork saying nothing in a particular.  Presentation, therefore, was kept minimal, which, for an eighteen year old product, I found surprising – any other maker would have trotted out the dancing girls and razamatazz, but perhaps Fabio felt he had more and even better stuff in the pipeline, and so took even this excellent product and kept things stripped-down.

And that might make you believe it’s the red haired bastard stepchild, perhaps lacking something (maybe legitimacy?). Nope, no such thing. Red gold in the glass, those faint sulphury notes that seem to be the defining characteristic of Rum Nation’s products I’ve tried wafted up at me, slightly heated, and pungent, mixed in with mellow notes of soft sweet peaches and just a mischievously sharp hint of oaky zest to tweak your schnozz. A shade more, oh…assertive. What a nice nose you have granny.

The arrival of the medium bodied rum came with a tantaraa of trumpets: dark chocolate, tobacco, well-cured leather. It was more tart than the 21, a shade briny, with a soft hint of the ocean, and as dry as a Brit expat’s sense of humour.  An odd combination, and in no way offensive.  Perhaps a better word would be distinctive.  The oaky background of the pungent nose remained, and united with the aforementioned tastes that were tempered with honey and licorice notes. I loved this rum at first taste nearly a year ago, and still think it’s quite the bees knees. Maybe it was because it was aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks – I’ve noticed that such multiple cask ageings tend to impart slightly more complex notes (not good in every case, but here, yes).

Finish was softly heated and gently assertive, like a father’s hug, bringing in the last fumes of aromatic leather and dark chocolate.  I believed then as I do now, that the 21’s finish is better, but let no-one kid you about the 18 – it’s very very good, and since it costs around a third less than that admirable product, you could do worse than splurge on it.  Fortunately, neither is so expensive that you have to pawn your kidneys to get one.

Varela in Panama makes this rum for Rum Nation, and here I should make a couple of notes for those who are interested in such things: 1. something like six to eight thousand bottles are made annually, and there’s a run for each year, noted on the bottle 2. Caramel is added at the beginning of the ageing process to the barrels, said caramel made fresh on site, from the same sugar cane as the rum itself and at the same time (does this qualify as an additive? seems a bit of a gray area) 3. All ageing is done in Panama; and 4. This was one of Rum Nation’s first products (the company was formed in 1999 and the first issue of this rum was in 2000), and I think that on the basis of its innovation and quality, it helped establish the company as one to watch.

So here is a rum that in the opinion of this writer, will one day be seen as rightfully taking its place with El Dorado, Juan Santos, Mount Gay, Appleton and others. Rum Nation’s Panama 18 is a sunshine rum that perpetrates a brilliant, splendid and useful shell game on us as drinkers: it is a not quite ultra-premium rum that’s an absolute riot to drink.  Mix it if you want to, but come on, why would you? When that kind of Aphrodite-like body beckons to you alone, well my friends, it might almost be a sin not to dance.

*

 

 

 

Mar 272013
 

Drink this and weep. Who would have thought the El Dorado 21 or the Juan Santos 21 might have serious competition? For a whisker over $100, Rum Nation’s Panama 21 year old rum will titillate your palate, lift your spirits and be your best friend for life.

(#111. 89/100)

***

We are always wrestling – philosophically speaking – with change. And as we get older, we who instituted change, embraced it, championed it…we regret the passing of the old ways which we once loved, but perhaps not well enough to preserve, and now can only remember. I think this way on occasion, and regret the accelerating movement of years, and fall into a reverie the Japanese call mono no aware, which describes a wistfulness about the transience of things.  That’s the state in which my mind was, on the rather depressing day I cracked the Rum Nation Panama 21. It is a single domain product, with a limited production run from a company of which I am a rabid Trekkie-style fanboy. I liked their products so much on a single taste that I bought one of everything they had made, and then went back and stocked up on a couple extra of my favourites. They really are that good.

Consider. Genuflecting rather disdainfully at the “I don’t want to be dinged extra for packaging” Rum Nation placed it in a sturdy, silver-wrapped cardboard enclosure that hugged the elegantly shaped decanter tightly. Forget the box, though – the bottle itself was admirable in shape and contour, and bears out my contention that the overall aesthetic must be considered as part of your experience (and my review), especially as you climb the dollar scale.

Things started swimmingly once I poured it out. Panama rums are not quite as heavy as Demeraras, yet this one evinced slow, fat legs of an impressive oiliness (as opposed to the rather anorexic agricoles I’ve never learned to appreciate properly). Fruity, soft, sweet scents billowed up immediately, intermingled with that faint hallmark rubberiness remniscent of supercar doughnuts on the tarmac (but nowhere near so aggressive or overwhelming as to be offensive, let me hasten to add – it added a nice touch of distinctiveness). This lovely nose further evinced traces of light flowers and perhaps a shade of smoke. Heavenly, truly.

It was on the palate that I realized I was sampling something quite special: smooth and silky, yet aggressive too (I half-expected it to be bottled at 43% or greater based solely on that observation, but no…); the rum tasted of cherries, peaches, freshly scooped-our tangerines, and by some weird alchemy, also aromatic pipe tobacco and well-cured leather. The Panama 21 was also a shade dry, exactly enough to counterbalance the sweetness which would otherwise have become cloying. The mouthfeel? … simply outstanding, both gentle and assertive at the same time. All of this led to a lasting, smooth fade that was heated and the slightest bit oaky: the rum was aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, all in the Varela plantation of Panama, to which some small amount of caramel is added at the time the barrel is filled, made from the same sugar as the rum itself (and from the same plantation’s cane)

Rum Nation out of Italy focuses on the upper segment of the market, with aged rums originating from specific plantations, aged to their own specifications and with phenomenal blending. I hope these rums seriously break into the North American market, because currently the main sales are in Europe (lucky people). Fabio Rossi, the owner, has taken on the Scotch whisky makers who dabble in rums and is pressing hard on their heels. His stated credo is to make high end, limited edition rums and does he ever deliver. If I had a comment here, it would simply be that I think he should make them a shade stronger…maybe 43% or 46%.

In summary, then the Panama 21 year old is an excellent, lovely rum, reasonably affordable for its age – it shares a price point with two other superlative rums: the El Dorado 21 and the Juan Santos 21. Because the rum is a limited annual production run (perhaps 8000 bottles or so per year) it’s kind of depressing that once this stuff is gone, much like the Caroni I so enjoyed, or the Port Ellen that serious maltsters weep over, then it’s gone forever, and we’ll never see its like again. How sad is that?

So, as noted in my opening paragraph, I sometimes fall into a bad funk. But, more often than the above statement might imply, I also take great joy in beauty and a blaze of excellence, of glory, however ephemeral. A perfectly composed photograph, a raunchy limerick, my daughter’s laughter, a golden-red sunrise, a moment of pure silence in a vast landscape, a piece of prose wittily and exactly written, a snatch of music that raises the hairs on my arm. And in the appreciation of a limited edition rum that exceeds all expectations, has that inexplicable complexity and balance and smoothness that revises my notions of quality…however fleeting its existence may be. That’s why this rum, for the brief shining moments I tasted it and savoured it and wondered at it, gave me a blaze of transcendence that comes all too rarely.

I fall into mono no aware on occasion, yes. But I don’t have to stay there, or let it consume me into melancholy — Rum Nation’s Panama 21 year old rum is one reason why this is absolutely true.

*

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 262013
 

Image courtesy of wikipedia

***

First posted 18 July 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#95) (Unscored)

The Zacapa 23 is some kind of touchstone for rum drinkers as a tribe. It consistently appears on Ministry members’ rum lists as a favourite, and garners high points across the spectrum of whole populations, has received unbelievable ratings from international panels and is a perennial reviewers’ favourite.  When I was over at the Arctic Wolf’s lair some month ago and he offered me a try from his collection, it was the Zacapa 23 I asked for.  Some see it as the benchmark by which all soleras are measured.  I’m not one of them, but you see?  The thing is a Marciano of rum, consistently punching above its weight.  For a solera that’s unusual.  For its price, that’s nothing short of amazing. What makes this one rum from Central America, from a company that makes almost nothing else of such note (unless it’s the 25) such a standout?

Well, let’s start there.  Ron Zacapa is made in Guatemala, in a small town appropriately named Zacapaneca, by the Industrias Licoreras Distillery. It has two points of difference that set it apart from more traditional Caribbean rums (although to consider Guatemala a “Caribbean” nation is to misunderstood a term which has more cultural than geographical implications) – one, it is not made from molasses but sugar cane juice (thickened by boiling to a honey-like consistency), and therefore has more in common with the agricoles of Martinque and Guadeloupe, and two, it is aged by the solera method used in sherries, a trait it shares with the Venezuelan Santa Teresa.  In this instance, literature available online advises me that the blend in the 23 is a mixture of rums aged 6 to 23 years, and is then further aged in white oak barrels.

Previously, the Zacapa had an age statement (23 anos) printed on the bottle, front and centre; however, since Diageo took over the distribution of the product, a more reasonable “23 Solera” has replaced this, and that makes more sense, otherwise confusion results (remember the Flor de Cana 21 which isn’t a 21 year old?). The bottle itself has a neat little palm leaf wrapping around it, and has a well seated cork: I’m a little ambivalent about corks these days – it’s the seal I’m after, as well as a lack of degradation of material – but I always have a soft spot for real old-school stuff, so this one worked just fine for me.  All in all, then, there is an aura of professionalism about the whole thing.

Decanted, the rum displays surprising body in the glass for something so apparently light, and has slow and strong legs down the side of the glass. Yet the nose is soft, missing being delicate by a certain muscularity that reminds me of the grace and strength of a ballet dancer: it is smooth in character, with hints of cocoa, caramel and a dusting of cinnamon and vanilla.  Nuts, perhaps, and after a bit I could swear I smelled cherries. It lacks the pachyderm heaviness of the El Dorados, and it seems just about right that it be so – this is a rum where the colour and the nose match precisely.

And where the taste does not let one down, I should add.  This thing is smooth and very slightly dry. Sweet. Perhaps a little too light on the body, but like the sugar, it’s a personal thing (I like slightly darker, heavier rums, a tad sweeter than some, which in no way detracts from my enjoyment and appreciation of one like this). And on the palate, excellent…I mean, really, really good. Hints of that same cocoa-vanilla blend, honey, caramel and burnt sugar, the very faintest smidgen of something like citrus, all in some kind of harmonious balance, a coming together of all parts that made me understand why people have been drooling over it for years. To my surprise, there is almost no bite at all, no sting, no claw, no scratch.  It’s not on the level of smoothness of the heavier Pyrat’s 1623 or the El Dorado 25, but then, it’s not a liqueur like the former either, and not a seeming wannabe like the latter.  The 23 coats the tongue and lasts for seeming small cycles of the universe, before gently letting go and passing into a fade that makes you want to pour another shot immediately.

The fade is the third leg, and it keeps up.  It does not drop the ball – unlike the Mount Gay 1703, I would say, if pressed for an opinion – by having that last departing bat of the cat’s claw on the way out.  It simply wafts up fumes, strokes your throat in zephyr breezes on the way down, and you swallow and look at the glass and wonder where your two ounce shot just went and why the bottle is suddenly half empty.  My father in-law (him of the Russian rotgut preferences, remember him?) isn’t a rum dude, but he simply adored this one; for a guy who at 72 rarely takes more than one sip for face (honour and duty must be maintained when in my house, so refusing is considered rude – same way I am unable to decline the sheep’s eyeball when at his), he immediately asked for another…and then another.

Note the rums to which I compare this lovely product.  All of them are north of a hundred bucks, sometimes two.  All of them are marketed as ultra premiums.  All are aged blends with large age statements (except Mount Gay and the Pyrat’s).  Yet this Zacapa 23, blended from rums containing a range of rums the oldest of which is 23 years old, holds its own without ever seeming to try (much like the Juan Santos 21).  It cost me the equivalent of sixty bucks from a friend who brought it in from the UK as a favour.  Even the Juan Santos clocks in at around ninety in Alberta. Value for money?  Ron Zacapa may have hit the sweet spot here.

It’s instructive to compare the Zacapa 23 to the Pyrat’s Cask 1623 which I angrily skewered not too long ago. I mentioned my disappointment with its overwhelming citrus taste that at the premium level should have been moderated and better balanced and that it was a forty dollar rum in a hundred dollar package selling for two hundred.  Ron Zacapa is almost exactly the opposite: all elements come together like a swiss watch, no one flavor overcoming or dominating any other; and while it may not be a two hundred dollar rum or come in a hundred buck package, it sure as hell doesn’t cost either of those numbers either.  For what you are paying compared to what you are getting, I stand here in front of you and state it flatly: this rum has one of the best quality to price ratios of any kill-divil it has ever been my pleasure to sample, and sweet or no, it’s good.  If it ever comes to Alberta again, I’m getting me a some more. And looking out for the 25.

(Note: Zaya, from its similar taste profile, maybe uses the same stock, though bottled in Trinidad and aged there)

 

Mar 262013
 
***

A medium-bodied golden rum with nose and plalate and finish all a cut above the normal – if this is what Belize can make with so little fanfare, we should all go and get ouselves some of their wares. 

First posted 6th November 2011 on Liquorature

(#085. 76/100)

*

Belize , formerly the British Honduras, is a small piece of the Yucatan peninsula (the eastern side), and a pleasant little parliamentary democracy where that staple of West Indian culture, cricket, is oddly absent (for shame). On the other hand, they are making a sterling little rumlet from one of the four distilleries in the country, and for that I give them full credit. The 1 Barrel Refined Old Rum is a lovely piece of work, and for a rum aged for so little, I’m actually more than a little impressed.

Travellers is now a distillery, and it traces its origins during the heydey of the 50s when the Caribbean was a mafia and tourist playground. In 1953 Senor Jaime Pedomo opened a bar he named Traveller’s, meant to cater to the transient clientele that dominated the eeconomy even then; as with most establishments of the time, it was not enough to merely sell imported hooch and locally fermented swill, but eventually to make one’s own, and pretend to some level of quality. Don Omario (after whom the eponymous 15 year old rum is named) followed this noble moonshining tradition, developed his own recipe, and its popularity grew by leaps and bounds – I see no reason to doubt various claims that it’s the most popular rum in the joint.

Appearance-wise, there’s not much to say. Standard slope shouldered bottle, the label in the shape of the pictured barrel (just one, to go along with its name, I would surmise). Screw top plastic cap, utilitarian and effective, no fancy stuff here at all. Never having had anything from Belize before – and being intrigued by anything new, I had no problem forking out the ~$30 to give it a try when I discovered it based on a tip, in a small out of the way little likker joint in Calgary.

Good thing, too, because here’s a golden rum that will make my second “10 Decent Rums (roughly) under $50” list for sure. The nose, admittedly, had an initially slight plasticy note to it (don’t ask), and fortunately this disappeared and was replaced by sweet vanilla, sugars and light phenols. After opening up it assumed a darker character, something more assertive, more mellow…sort of like sucking off the crap from an M&M and then getting to the chocolate. Fleshy fruits, hints of burnt sugar, freshly shaved coconut. It was mild and soft and actually improved over the minutes.

Nor did the taste disappoint, though here I should mention that 1 Barrel is really not a sipper: it’s good, no doubt, just a shade uncouth at times. Still,  just as the nose transmuted into a kind of spicy clarity more reminiscent of white flowers and cherries,  the taste, as it stayed, mellowed like the nose did, without losing that edge, and so the memory you’re left with is one of a kind of half-crazed caramel-vanilla nuttiness and butterscotch that grabs your tongue and then jabs it with a pitchfork a few times just for fun. Maybe that’s the lack of ageing, because the 1 barrel is only aged for a year (in used Kentucky bourbon barrels) – so some of that youthful insouciance and braggadocio of an unbridled and untamed hooch remains to remind you of its origins.

In spite of that sharpness, it was actually milder than one might expect after having been assaulted by, oh, a Coruba or a Smuggler’s Cove; and richer, with the burnt brown sugar scents gathering force as the minutes went by. All of these elements came together, and then mellowed into a caramel enhanced buterriness about as amazing to experience as hearing my nineteen year old daughter tell me she loves me without prompting her with a new car. The finish wasn’t bad either, though shorter than I might have liked, and a shade more raw than I cared for. But overall, not nearly as bad as my previous horror-show with the Bundie had been – I didn’t lose my voice or my sight on this occasion, for a start (much to the disappointment of several hopeful relatives, I’m sure) – and as a mixer, the smokiness of the burnt sugar really comes out.

So to summarize: an excellent entry-level golden rum which just fails as a sipper but can certainly be endured as such; and a good mixer if that’s your bent. Perhaps the best way to round out this review is to simply say I enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to get higher and more aged entries in Traveller’s food chain.

***

Mar 242013
 

Solid, even excellent, full-bodied, full-tasting mixing rum (some with stronger constitutions than mine may disagree).  I’d take it neat only with some caution, and would simply not advise it this way, though you are welcome to try.

(First posted 21 July 2010 on Liquorature.)

(#030)(Unscored)

***

When you’re going on a deliberate bender, or attending a bash where you know the drinking will be copious, there’s about zero point to being pretentious  about it.  You dress like a peon, you bring some cheap stuff with you (or supply it), and you don’t waste a whole lot of time snooting, tooting, gargling, tasting and spitting. You’re there to have a good time, and having a professional demeanour regarding your booze is about as useful as taking Granny’s silverware to a backyard barbie.

This was the frame of mind in which I decided to take something simple to a gathering of the Old Farts last Saturday.  Normally referring to ourselves as the Great Scholarly Gathering (a hyperbole if there ever was one) we meet after work about once a quarter at the Unicorn Pub in downtown Calgary on a wing night, and quaff beer (rum in my case), discuss work and cast deleterious aspersions on the escutcheons of our former employers, long may their management bowels fester. The Bear, being a founding member of the esteemed society, decided to have it at his place last week, given that he had space and time; and never being one to pass up wings and ribs and booze, I enthusiastically accepted. And brought along this low end Flor, to see how it ranked up against their very excellent 18 year old.

Flor de Cana is a Nicaraguan rum (points to Doug McG for recommending its older sibling), produced by Compañia Licorera de Nicaragua, which was established in 1937 to produce and market the Flor.  In 1996 they did a complete factory upgrade which allowed them to attain the coveted ISO 9002 certifiction, and nowadays they use a 3 column still to produce both the Flor variations, and the bulk rum sold to bottlers and blenders in Europe. It’s of interest to note that while the political unrest of the ’80s and ’90s was going on, the conmpany maintained production, and hedged their bets by storing their rum production in oak casks (I assume in some safe location) – and now they have one of the best stores of aged rums anywhere, so look out for great rums to come in the years ahead.

Flor 7 is darkish gold brown with red tints, and medium bodied. It is not on par with the dark density of, say, the Kraken Black, or the almost oily opaque caramel of the El Dorado 21 year old, but it’s not light, and had anorexic legs that disappeared down the sides of the glass fast. Having had the 18 yr old, I expected something less sweet than the norm, perhaps some fruitiness to it.

The nose did not disappoint, once you got past the alcohol sting: slightly fruity, hints of caramel and toffee…yummy. The more you smell the thing in warm weather, the more you may find…I swear I smelled a bit of leather and oak in there (maybe that was the saddle some fool left draped over the Jack Daniels barrels this was matured in, back in the old pais).

Neat, the taste in the mouth is like a lesser version of the older rum: not quite as smooth or dense, and a bit rough, but not enough so to disappoint. The caramel, toffee and vanilla tastes are balanced by the lack of sweetness in a manner that is surprising, because normally I expect a bitchslap of bitterness when the sugar is toned down – but not here. No medicinal taste at all, just some sting and burn.  There’s a mild kind of spiciness, perhaps nutmeg or cinnamon (pepper?…naaah), that I liked. On ice this almost disappeared, but came back like the cavalry over a cola (in this case a pepsi might be better if you like your sweets up front). And the finish is crisp and sharp and sudden, with the burn there for sure, but in a way that reminds you this is a younger product of a more distinguished line and so is allowed a little more freedonm to be untamed.

Now you must not get the impression that I took a delicate sniff, a prissy little taste, swirled and swallowed and then came up with all of this at once. Truth to tell, I finished half the bottle over the course of many hours (Keenan had retrogressed to Heineken, polishing off maybe fifteen or sixteen in the same timeframe). The thing is, the rum kind of opened up as the evening wore on, and I tasted more in it as I drank it more of it and didn’t eat anything except my wife’s ferocious hot wings (aptly named “Satan’s Crotch” to warn the unwary and tender-tummied).  And since I was neither completely drunk nor completely sober – I passed my time in a sort of pleasant haze in between either of these precipitous extremes – I was able to remember most of what I detected in order to write this review.

Mind, I’m sure you can understand why I waited a few days to write the thing.  Any fool can drink for eight hours, but it takes some skill to write something coherent when in that condition. I’m not entirely ecstatic with this single digit rum, but I will concede that it put me into my haze without bang or burn or serious after-effects, tasted pleasant and was a good drink.  So my take is that for a low end mixer, this one isn’t half bad at all, and if I didn’t have several thousand rums to look at in the course of my life, this one would probably take up residence on my “bender shelf” quite often.

Mar 232013
 

First posted 25 January 2010 on Liquorature.

(#007)(Unscored)

***

Memory fails as to who introduced me to this Nicaraguan gem. I have a feeling it was Dougie from the office when he went down there. I was initially a bit doubtful, but since I was trying to scare up some good stuff for the first non-whiskey night of Liquorature, which thus far had been exclusively a Scottish binge, I felt it was necessary to pull out the stops: I had already bought the Appleton Master’s Blend and the Zaya, and this one’s price point fell somewhere in between.

The oldest of the Flor de Cana rums made from molasses, this sweeter than average dark brown rum is aged for eighteen years in used whiskey or bourbon barrels, yet somehow avoids that harsh bite so characteristic of rums aged in whiskey casks (like Renegade’s offerings). Because it is younger than the Appleton Master’s Blend, it isn’t quite as pretentious either, and so I deplored the similarity of the bottle with the 12 year version somewhat less. This is also the darkest of the rums we had that night, a rich clear brown with a slightly red tint; and, poured, it releases a nutty, smoky aroma, with hints of burnt sugar.

The taste in the mouth is superb (but note that my own predilections run slightly more to sweet than the average, so I won’t pretend this will work for others), sweet and spicy – those caramel notes really start to come out if you can hold it on the tongue – and a bit of oak flavour that begins to dominate after a bit. Actually, more than a bit. As you sip, the oak overpowers everything else and though the finish is smooth and fine, I felt that for an 18 year old, this was not quite the standard I expected. I think I’ll have to go back to this.

The issue for me is that the 12-year and even the 7-year Flors are fantastic for their ages, and the balance that I found tipping to the oak here, is better handled in these younger offerings. They are simply better on the texture and body, while their finish is a little less. Now I’ve been accused of taking one sip, passing judgement, and drowning the poor baby in coke at the first hint of distress (a holdover from my plebian past where a flattie and a bowl’ice plus pepsi was all I needed to go with the curry goat I had an hour before), but unfortunately here it was almost necessary. I’d take the 12-year neat, and the 7- with some coke, but the 18-year old, sadly enough, and good as it was, did not move me to treat it with the great degree of reverence I initially thought it deserved, and therefore I shrugged and bastardized the poor thing.

Again, I stress this is one of those I have to go back to, so my review may change; right now I’ll place it in the first tier, just not right up at the top. Second shelf, perhaps. I’m hoping it’ll move up.