Jun 262019
 

The fourth and last of the four Dutch West Indies rums that I obtained solely to shed some light on the islands is a pale 35% shrug of indifference called the Palmera White Aruba rum. You know me, I have a thing for unapologetically barking-mad high-proofed white rums – but dis ain’ dat, as my bushmen squaddies would say back in the old days.

Were you to google it, you’d find that the Palmera Quality Products company produces several rums – notably the White and the Dark “authentic Arubian rums with a rich heritage flavour” at standard strength, and is at pains to mention on its About page that “…PQP produces many different beverages in its own processing plant…[and] produces products locally from carefully developed formulas that meet international standards.” No mention of a distillery, a blender, a sugar cane source, an ageing regimen. Call me a cynic, but it sure implies a mass-produced neutral-spirits-treatment operation to me, not a rum made by a dynamic master blender who knows his sh*t, let alone by a distillery that can be identified.  

And maybe that’s why I can never find out anything about these companies, and why the Dutch West Indian islands’ rums – the San Pablo Gold label and Platinum White from Curacao and the Carta Reserva from Aruba – have singularly failed to make any lasting impression on the rumisphere. That might also explain why nobody ever posts an ecstatic hosanna on FB saying “I got this!” and then basks in the glory of the hunt concluded, the find immortalized, the cheers of the envious crowd modestly acknowledged.

So then, what was in the glass that day? A white rum, 35%, supposedly from Aruba (I suppose otherwise), and very little to go on beyond that. As befitting its puny mouse-that-roared proofage, it didn’t give off much of an aroma – sugar water, grass, dill, the sweetness of laundry detergent and a tad of lemon juice.  It was marginally more assertive than the Carta Reserva, and maybe a shade better balanced between some sweet and lemony components.

The taste was mostly sodas: 7-Up or Sprite, cream soda.  Some vanilla, coconut, and vague herbaceous flavours, sugar water and pears, and believe me, that was reaching. Maybe it’s an island thing, to make rums this weak (the current rums listed on the website are similarly proofed, bar a pair of 151s), but all a rum like this one can do is juice up a cocktail or give you a headache in hot weather because you won’t think something so mild could affect you, when of course it can.

The Palmera is as unprepossessing as all the others from the region I’ve sampled (bar the untried overproofed 151s).  It’s light and white, weak and meek, and after the first three tries with its cousins, I approached it with distinct lack of enthusiasm, and finished the tasting exercise with relief. The rum just, I dunno, has this indifferent air of “good ‘nuff” that offends me for some reason, like barely enough effort was put into it to make it sell, and no more. Even the Curacao San Pablo rums at least had the courage to go to 40% instead of messing around with this underwhelming strength.

Socrates remarked that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Where I to apply that here and paraphrase, I’d add a codicil that the Palmera and its cousins makes inevitable – “Sometimes the examined rum is not worth drinking.”  Sorry, but here that’s God’s own truth, and the best I can say about it is that although it’s pointless and purposeless and near tasteless, let’s be grateful that at least it’s painless.

(#636)(64/100)


Other notes

The design of the modern labels is quite different from the one I bought, so I assume there’s been some changes over the years.  I don’t know if the blend or recipe was changed when the label did, nor am I aware when this happened

Jun 242019
 

This is one of those strange rums that clearly exists, but about which nobody seems to know anything, even though I was informed it remains on sale in Aruba to this day. Jazz Singh out of the UK couldn’t help – he rather witheringly remarked that the only local stuff he found on the island was “a lot of imported column rubbish” and that the one distillery Aruba used to have is definitely closed. And good luck with finding any info on the company whose name is on the label, Playa Liquor and Bottling Co, ‘cause that’s equally opaque and non-communicative. So for the moment I’ll treat is a sort of low rent tourist trap hooch. In fact, I’m not even sure what else the company does, so spare is Playa’s online footprint, on FB or elsewhere.

There is an air of “generic” about the rum. It has a title used before – “Superior Carta Reserva” was also a 1970s Puerto Rican rum made for E.F. Debrot Inc (a liquor merchant in Aruba), and it’s white, it’s 35%, and that’s about all you’re going to get here.  I’d hazard a guess it’s a column still product, and that it’s made elsewhere under contract by a third party…assuming it continues to be made at all, because there’s simply no way that any rum company would not advertise its own product, even locally, with this kind of promotional black hole. 

Tasting notes, then, because what else can we do? Nose: a thin, watery, a slightly salty cream soda and Angostura bitters…what we used to call a “rockshandy” when I was a boy.  Plus vanilla and a whiff of citrus. There’s not much more – it’s like light alcoholic water and no aroma of any distinctiveness whatsoever.

Palate? Nope, not a whole lot there either. 35% ABV excites little beyond my indifference.  Even having it first thing in the morning with nothing else before, so that the strength would be less of a factor than later, achieved nothing.  A splash of salt water and an olive or two, vanilla again, a short, faint bite of a very ripe apple, and maybe a pear…or was that a cucumber? Who cares?  The thing is so dim, so bland, so lacking anything resembling character, that you be forgiven for thinking it was in witness protection. The best part is the short, sweet, slightly salty, slightly dry finish, because, you know, it finishes. 

So there we are. Probably molasses based, filtered, an uninspirational, boring, flaccid excuse for a rum, distinguished only by its remarkable lack of anything in particular. It’s a hollow rum, a watery alcohol delivery system, eliciting nothing in the rum drinker except perhaps a big yawn. I’ll just leave it there.

(#635)(65/100)

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.

Jul 012013
 

D3S_5493

Passive,easy, light, indifferent, with a finish as short as this review

(#171. 78/100)

***

 Put aside my issues with underproof rums in general, and the five year old rum made by Centenario Internacional SA out of Costa Rica comes off as a reasonable rum, quite soft, and in line with many of their other jelly-kneed products: which is to say, pleasant and perfectly drinkable, but ultimately uninspiring (to me). As before, I simply note that I’m unclear who the rum is made for, since it’s too weak to appeal to an aficionado or to make a mix where strength is called for, and too strong for those who prefer liqueurs and digestifs. Perhaps it’s a liquid primer for beginners who want to test the waters before plunging right in.

In the glass, this hay blonde 35% spirit presented itself on the nose like a somnambulant Chihuahua: it had a smooth, shy, yet oddly nippy little nose to it. And that scent was very nice, if kind of, well, tiny: cherries and frangipani meandered out, brown sugar and caramel notes held hands with them, wound around with a smidgen of oak tannins and citrus. To some extent this lack of oomph is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with underproofs, since I’ve long since stated that I personally am more enthused by stronger and more aggressive (and darker) profiles: light, dancing notes that are difficult to come to grips with just don’t do much for me, pleasant as they may be (and admittedly, they really are quite pleasant, in this rum).

As befitted a less powerful rum, the arrival on the tongue was smooth, light and lacked sting or oiliness. Tangerine rinds and brown sugar, caramel infused with muskier, sharper oak: overall a pretty nice rum, just without chutzpah. As it opened up (didn’t need long for that), other, subtler tastes emerged, honey and pecans, a bit of vanilla. Quite enjoyable on its own. It succeeds swimmingly on taste and aroma, but failed on intensity, and while to me that sank it, there’s no question that as a drink judged on its own standards (that of rums bottled at 35%), it wasn’t half bad. Of course, it would come as no surprise to anyone that the finish was short and gentle and tasty, like being enveloped in a thin but very soft sweater that someone wore too close to a smoky fire for an hour or two.

D3S_5490

So: as a five year old, it’s reasonable without passion, self-contained without aggro. A bit passive, if you will, giving you what it has without real flair or bang-down-your-door animalism. Bearing in mind my personal palate, which tends towards darker and stronger rums, I can’t say I would ever buy such a rum, because underneath, if I were to be honest, here’s a product that doesn’t look like it wants to be a rum at all, or, at best, is truly sure about its place in our piratical universe.

Stuff not strictly pertinent to this review – you can ignore this section

It’s appreciated that my disdain for rums bottled at under 40% is a divisive issue, and many will like it for the same reasons I don’t. The purpose of these remarks (even if negative) is to illustrate how I reacted to a rum that does not conform to my own standards, even if it does to those of others. As with any product one is unsure of (or disagrees with the review of) and where one gets different opinions from many people, sourcing a sample of one’s own to try is probably best.

If your preference is for such a relatively gentle drink but you do enjoy some complexity as well, take a look at the Legado 12 year old made by the same company. It’s also 35% (available at 40% in Europe), and has similar qualifications from me, but there’s quite a bit more interesting stuff going on in that one than here, especially at the front end.

 

Apr 122013
 

D7K_1244

 

A set of Bata flip-flops made out of Gucci-quality leather

(#155. 80.5/100)

***

Frankly, I just don’t get the point of underproofs. It’s like they aren’t quite sure what they want to be, and are deathly afraid of offending even one potential customer by being, I dunno, a real rum. If I wanted a light liqueur, I would have bought one, and to have a rum aged twelve years to be bottled at a strength like 35% makes little sense to me: the wussiness sinks an otherwise decent product. You can taste the underlying potential…it just doesn’t deliver.

Put aside the grumbling about oomph, and this 12 year old rum made in Costa Rica (presented to me by my compadres Mary and Stuart, who recently returned from there) is a pretty good product, mind you…it rises – barely – above its weakness, one might say. Consider merely the presentation: decent cardboard box of good paper, well designed, holding a frosted, dark, engraved bottle with a plastic screw cap. Solid all the way ‘round.

This was a rum too weak to batter your schnozz — so gentleness, warmth, lightness and softness were expected and received — and had intriguing and predominating scents of vanilla. Around that core swirled light floral hints, freshly cut ripe peaches and apricots (not rich enough for pineapple by any means, which was a good thing). Sweet, not cloying, and a faintly medicinal background, barely noticeable. Relatively unassertive, which may point to where underproofs usually unravel for me.

That gentleness carried on to the palate as well. This was a very smooth and light rum, and because of its delicacy, very difficult to pick apart. Almost no oak prescence, more vanilla and caramel and light flowers, all of which morphed into the androgynous nature of a papaya, skirting the line between a little tartness and none at all. There was hardly any finish to speak of, a short exit that left a quick last taste of oak and vanilla (but none of the raw smoke of older, more powerful expressions), and left me looking with some dissatisfaction at my glass. It gave too little, you see, and while a person casually trying something in this line would probably enjoy it, I preferred and continue to prefer, stronger and more intense drinks. This wasn’t one of them, good as its makers made it.

Speaking of the makers, Centenario Internacional SA from Costa Rica makes quite a range of these rums – five, seven, nine, twelve year and twenty year olds (plus a solera 25 40% not mentioned on their website). Aged in white oak barrels, the product of locally grown sugar cane, all except the solera are bottled at 35% according to the website’s photographs, so this is not an aberration, but a deliberate blending choice. I’m afraid I was not able to come up with much more regarding the company history – however, it did not seem to be one of those decades- or centuries- old distilling houses with traditions handed down through the generations, more a commercial spirits maker of relatively recent antecedents.

In fine, then, the general profile of the Centenario strikes an intriguing balance between the smooth lightness of some of the Colombian rums (like the Juan Santos 12, or the Ron Viejo de Caldas Añejo 8 años 38%) and the slightly more assertive Panamanians such as the Abuelo 12 or RN Panama 18. But bar the Viejo de Caldas, those drinks were bottled at par proof or better, had heft, hair and some hormones under the satin slinkiness. On this one, I can’t help thinking that they had a great product in the making , and for reasons known only to themselves, they dialled it back down to a puff piece I can barely call a rum without snickering. Much as I believe it to be a good product, I would only use it to introduce a newbie to the rum world, because at end, speaking for myself and knowing my preferences, that weakness of proof is its undoing – they have, alas, made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse.


Other notes

Scouring the online shops shows me that the 40% expressions of the Legado are available, mostly in Europe. I suspect I’d enjoy those a lot more and score them more highly than this one.

Josh Miller from Inu a Kena has reviewed the Centenario 25 and notes it as being a solera. No such notation for the Legado, either on box or bottle

This one can be had neat, no problem. It’s gentle and smooth enough not to bite. A drink for the calmly unadventurous who prefer navigate through less treacherous waters without any stress.

 

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 272013
 

 

A gentle, easygoing underproof rum-wannabe. There’s nothing really outstanding about it, and it’s too weak to appeal to me personally: like other Asian rums, however, it does have a taste all its own, and for those who don’t like forty-or-greater percenters, this one will satisfy.

(#108. 74/100)

***

Is this a rum at all? Liquorature is littered with comments from both the purists (who disdain any additions) and the tolerant (who don’t mind), and the bone of contention between them is always the same: can a spirit be made from less than 100% cane juice, with additives for taste and profile, and still call itself an inheritor of the seafaring tradition and swishing cutlasses — a rum?

The first real lightning rod for this discussion came from the Tanduay 12 year old rum, and here is another one that is sure to reopen that argument, because the Mekhong product, named for the river running along the Thai border, clearly and boldly states its antecedents front and center: 95% cane extract, 5% from rice, plus caramel and a “secret” recipe of herbs and spices. And also – nowhere does it say it is anything but a spirit…Mekhong lays no claim to being a rum at all. So what I’m going to do is simply make these facts known, and place the rum (yes, I will call it that) in the same league as the Tuzemak and the Tanduay. Decent products, nice taste, no other place to categorize ‘em, welcome to the rum family.

Mekhong as a whole doesn’t really impress me, in spite of a few features that are a cut above average. The bottle is undistinguished, with a lurid red and yellow label that is sure to catch your attention in the local rum shelf. Tinfoil cap, standard bottle, nothing special here, unless it’s the clear statement of ingredients that El Kapitan so likes to see. Knowing his predilection for rums to be rums, I think I’ll pre-empt him and say flat out that a lot of people will not consider this to be one, not just because it’s not 100% cane juice or molasses, and also because of all the extras, but mostly because the makers themselves don’t.

As a 35% likker, I didn’t expect much, and I didn’t get much: on the nose it was a shade musty, with herbal and grassy notes (I felt I was in a tropical jungle glade, to be honest), and additional hints of vanilla.  As befitted an underproof, it was soft and easy and made no demands.  Quite gentle, actually.

The arrival was along similar lines.  One might almost say it was lazy: soft and sweet and slow to come forth, with vanilla, caramel, dark sugar and that herbal, grassy note taking something of the edge there spirit(and nicely so).  I think I noted some ginger, maybe citrus, but these were backseat drivers, not the equivalent of my wife’s more in-your-face front-seat aggro.  As for the fade, well, it faded.  There was nothing there to really speak of…what little there was hinted of nuts and more vanilla, but I’d be lying if I said I was anything but indifferent about it.  See, this is where the 35% works against the spirit: as a gentle cocktail mixer (which is how many drink it) with delicate tropical ingredients, it’ll probably work – as a sipper in its own right, it’s…well, it’s a shade wussy.  Keep in mind though, I’m used to stuff north of 40% (including the Lemon Hart 151 which was a gobsmacking 75.5%), so your mileage, depending on what you like, may vary. No offense to the Thais, but West Indian would probably snicker a little at this one.

Mekhong Thai spirit is a product of the Bangyikhan distillery located on the outskirts of Bangkok, and is Thailand’d first domestically produced (and branded) spirit, first created in 1941. It had its origin with James Honzatko, who was an avid brewer and eventually began producing his favourite whisky on a large scale. After Honzatko’s death, his close friend Peter Sawer took over the brewing of Mekhong and was ultimately responsible for its mass production. It’s an interesting point that Mekhong is marketed in Asia as a whiskey even if the label doesn’t say so, but it is of course nothing of the kind (so relax, Maltmonster). The distillery itself goes back a lot further, however: Bangyikhan considers itself Thailand’s first distillery, constructed in 1786 by King Buddha Yodfah Chulaloke at the mouth of the Klong Bangyikhan Canal, the canal eventually lending its name to the distillery. It was owned at various times by different parts of the Thai government, until 1957 when the private sector began taking over. In 2000, it was acquired by the Thai Beverage Company.

It may simply be an Asian thing, but rums don’t seem to be a drink of the region the way whiskies are identified with Scotland, gins with the english, vodka with the Russians or rums with the Caribbean.  That’s unfortunate, since the sugar cane grasses originated in that region and you’d expect they’d be going great guns there.  However, given the startling originality (I didn’t say I liked it) of the Australian Bundie, the overall solidity of the Phillipine Tanduay and the impressive quality of the Indian Old Port, I know the expertise and quality is there.  Here’s to hoping that the Thais spread out and go for stronger, more distinctive spirits that can really be called rums….I for one will certainly be buying if they do.

 

Mar 262013
 
***

A low proof rum that is impressive right out of the gate, suggests quality and subtlety past compare, and then gives up and runs full tilt into the wall. What this rum might have been with some extra strength….    

First posted 6th January 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#099. 77/100)

***

Right off the bat I have to state my preferences: I am not a fan of underproofs. They have a fake air of smoothness that has less to do with a blender’s art than with a low alcohol content. Spirit imparts depth and character to a rum (as I have observed with overproofs from time to time), and the lack thereof forces the distiller all too often to make up for the shortfall with additives.

With the Colombian Ron Viejo de Caldas 8 anos (bottled at 35% according to the label), however, I may have to revise this assumption, since not only did the Colombianos age this for eight years as if in defiance of all conventions for a rum less than 40%, but the thing is actually quite a decent drink which, because of its relative weakness, can be had as is without embellishment. I can’t say this makes me an instant convert…but it does make me less of a detractor.

Ron Viejo de Caldas is made by the Industria Licorera de Caldas from Colombia. It started small, as a little known artesinal rum from the provinces, but clever marketing and its own quality have made it a more internationally known brand than heretofore. It was created by a Cuban Don Ramón Badia at the behest of the Caldas Fine Perfume and Rum company in 1926 (not as unusal as it may sound, since a good nose is key to both) and in 1959, boosted by good sales, a distillery was set up; in 2009, the company produced 25 million bottles of various rums. Nowadays, the brand is produced in Manizales, the provincial capital of Caldas, 7,200 feet above sea level. Located in the shadow of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, the distillery is now equipped with column stills and sources its sugar cane syrup from the Cauca River Valley, where sugar cane is cultivated all year round.

On the nose the first impression one gets is a kind of supple fruitiness: peaches, citrus, nectarines and maybe a ripe mango or two. Raisins and cinnamon and maybe nutmeg can barely be made out. The aroma is rich and deep and actually reminds me a bit of a good bourbon, or a rye (just a sweeter one). And upon opening up, the brown sugar notes start to dominate in a very pleasant burnt sugar I always love.

The dark copper liquid has a pleasantly heavy body, and is smooth and a shade sere: there is less sugar and and molasses on the taste than the nose suggested, and this might be because the rum is not made from molasses, but from sugar cane syrup. The ageing in bourbon barrels certainly left its mark in a slight woodsy note at the back end, and this was not unpleasant, just distinctive…a bit of character added to the gene pool, so to speak

The fade might be the weakest part of the rum, and this is where the low alcohol content shows its true colours and abandons your snoot — just as you expect a lingering smooch from what you may have thought was a lovely undiscovered gem you alone have sampled, it…disappears. No seriously. It has one of the shortest finishes of any rum I’ve ever had, and that’s something of the character that’s missing along with the true 40% or greater ABV content.

All things considered, I just don’t get why this rum had to be an underproof at all (unless I got a variant that’s not commonly exported). It has a lovely body, a terrific nose, a good tart and tasty palate, and then, just like Dick Francis’s horse all those years ago, it just falls flat on its belly and skids to a sudden sharp stop without explanation or apology. The 40% variation I did not have won a bronze medal in 2007 and a gold in the 2009 Ministry of Rum tasting competition for premium rums, but fellas, all I can say is that good as that may make it, ensure you check the label for the proof before you buy this in a duty free shop someplace, or you might be a little disappointed

I’m giving this baby 77 points on the strength of its great opening act, and had it not been for the weak conclusion, it would surely have topped 80. It reminds me of unadorned rums, subtle, complex and not too burdened with noticeable additives of any kind. I just wish I knew what the real forty percenter was like – on the strength of this one, it must be quite something.

 

Mar 262013
 

Dos Maderas 5+3 is a study in opposites, an examination into contrasting styles somehow coming together to produce something different from either. The rums are made in the so-called Spanish style based on ageing in sherry casks, yet have their origins in quintessential English style rums first created in Barbados and Guyana. The result is hamstrung by what to me is an utterly unnecessary dilution to 37.5%, and sinks what could otherwise have been quite an impressive product. (First posted February 19th, 2012)

(#90. 78/100)

***

Dos Maderas (“Two Woods”) is a brand of the Spain-based company Williams & Humbert, and have done something quite intriguing, in line with Rum Nation, Cadenhead, Gordon & MacPhail and Bruichladdich – they have taken a Caribbean rum or two and aged it their own way, in their own casks. The result is something I’ve been raring to check out for some time, and I bought both the 5+5 and 5+3 variations within weeks of each other last year. I was actually so curious about what they came up with that I didn’t even flinch at the 5+3’s 37.5% strength, which normally is an immediate disqualifier (for me, not necessarily for you).

Rums under 40% I tend to view with some disfavour, because they lack intensity of flavour which stems from their underproofishness (is that a real word?). They also present a certain smoothness that has less to do with a blender skilfully marrying the products of various barrels, and more with a lack of alcoholic content. Tastes are smaller, noses not as full, bodies somewhat less alluring, mouthfeel not as viscous or enveloping. They edge perilously close to liqueurs (or exes you no longer love…but I digress).

Damn. I must be turning into a rum snob.

That editorializing aside, I shrugged and went ahead anyway. 5+3 was a gold coloured rum, medium bodied and created from rums hailing from Barbados aged for five years there in American white oak barrels, then taken to Spain, where they were aged a further three years in casks that once held Dos Cortados palo cortado sherry (aged for 20 years, as certified by the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Regulatory Council).

On the nose, it was not a rampaging stampede of strong and dominant flavours remniscent of a Serengeti stampede at dawn…more a gentle melange of chocolate, coffee, brandy, burnt sugar and mild cinnamon. And yes, the sherry came through, winding its way subtly around these scents.

The nose was lovely, yes; the taste not quite so much. This is where the lack of an alcohol content dissatisfied me, and perhaps those who like a stronger taste profile will agree (maybe not…). Sure there were the intermingling flavours of nuts, vanilla, creamy butter and burnt sugar – and had the right amount of sweet, which I would suggest is the residual bleed from the sherry casks it was aged in – but also some surprising oakiness and bite, barely held in check by the relative weakness of the blend. It was also quite dry, and while soft and clean, lacked some of that power and punch I would have preferred: in a word, it didn’t have oomph.

The fade, while pleasant came similarly short in character, and the most I can say is that it was not sharp or overwhelmingly piquant, nor did it seek to make up for its shortcomings in the taste department by trying to bitch slap your tonsils one last time to assert itself and say “Yo! I’m here!” In that sense, it was utterly consistent: a good rum in and of itself, just not, well…butch.

In fine, then, this rum is a homunculus of the breed: a perfectly formed replica in every way…but in miniature. That, I am afraid, is not enough to get either my undivided attention, or my undiluted appreciation. Bring it up to 40% or greater, mind you, and Dos Maderas might really be on to a winner. Until then, this lightweight rumlet lacks that final ingredient that would make me take it more seriously as a contender: a punch that means something.


 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 16 April 2011 on Liquorature

(#074) (Unscored)

A homunculus of a rum, this – it’s got all the hallmarks of a rum – the background taste, the nose, a bit of bite; but at end, you’ll either think it’s a strong liqueur or a weak rum, and in either case it works better as a dessert drink than a true sipper in your glass.

***

“Bloody mouthwash!” my esteemed and geriatric sire sneered years and years ago, as I sipped a Crème de Menthe in the days when I was still searching for a drink to call my own and clutch to my post-pubescent chest. I fear that since his tongue is the only instrument I know which gets sharper with constant use, he would take one shot of the Juan Santos café 34% and bugle “Nescafe!” with that same note of relish at having won an obscure point (I will note he is a rabid aficionado of the El Dorado 15, which he says he can barely afford, even as he counts his many properties and makes jokes – admittedly very funny – about my lack of an inheritance…but I digress).

So what to make of Juan Santos’s entry into the flavoured undeproof rum segment?

The café infused rum is, to me, an exercise in diminution which Juan Santos made in order to break into a smaller niche, widen its appeal and maybe grab some market share from, oh, Kahlua. Diminution is the quality or process of being reduced in size, extent or importance. It’s a cousin to words like “diminutive” or “diminished” and for a serious rum drinker, neither word does this rum any favours. To be diminutive is to be small and preciously sized, wee and wondrous, like a dwarf pony, or my five year old (or my wife, but never mind). When you consider that Juan Santos has made full strength offerings like the under-the-radar 9 year old, a very quietly impressive (but a bit bland) 5 year old, and a 12 and 21 year old still awaiting my written attentions but which I have liked a lot, then I have to say the impolitic thing and tell you straight out that the underproof under discussion is suffering from an identity crisis. It may even be a chick’s rum. No rum or whisky drinker I know would watch me drink this thing without asking solicitously abut the state of my hormone shots. Yes, I know this is sexist, but come on: we are designed by a jillion years of evolution to equate large with male, small with female, strong likker for men and liqueurs for women, with the possible exceptions of RuPaul, and Grenada, where forty percent hooch is considered mild and for the fairer sex only

And yet, like many small things, the baby rum is pretty good if you’re prepared to take it on its own terms. You open it, and because of the lower alcohol content, you don’t get the spear of spirit skewering you right off.  It presents with a smooth, soft nose, a bit like Irish coffee, really.  Coffee – for which Columbia is justly famed – is right in the middle, with caramel butterscotch undertones, and the alcohol lending it the slightest bit of heft. On that level, it works swimmingly.

On the tongue, the lack of alcohol bite works entirely to your advantage, because it gives you a chance not to wince, and merely appreciate the flavours: and those flavours are some dark sugar, some currants and berries, perhaps a nut of some kind and an overwhelming taste of coffee.  It’s sweet, very sweet, more like a liqueur than a real rum, light and a bit creamy. Delicious, truly.  On the flip side, that taste – while nowhere near as unpleasant as the orange of the Pyrat’s XO was to me – will be the second deciding factor in making you decide whether you like it or not (the other being the sub-par strength).

So here is where I add the caveats: as long as you’re prepared to accept that this is a rumlet, not a “real” rum (in the sense that it is weaker than the standard 40% just about everyone is used to); as long as you really do have a sweet tooth; and as long as you don’t have a real rum nearby (like another Juan Santos) – so long as these things hold true, you’ll like this cafe infused variation.  It’s these things that will make it work for some, not for others, since it is thicker and more sugary than any other rum I’ve ever tried, coats the tongue well and doesn’t so much sting as caress your taste buds. Not all will like that, and for me, having had it off and on for six months, I have to say it’s what Guyanese would call “sometimish.”  Inconsistent, and not always serious.  The finish, as we might expect from a weaker cousin of the older and brawnier relatives, is smooth, gentle and not in the slightest bit assertive.

The thing about such underproofs is that they are meant to be had as after dinner, dessert likkers.  If I wanted to go on a bender, there’s no way I’d touch an underproof (any of them).  I started this review by suggesting I’m not really a fan of liqueurs or underproofs. I still feel that way. I won’t open the Café variation too often. But it’s more a question of when and where than of what. No, I won’t drink it often, but I will open it on a cool evening when I’m out on the veranda after a good meal, when something standard-strong won’t cut it, and a nice, soft after-dinner rum that soothes instead of bites is called for. Something not as thick as Bailey’s. A variation on an Irish coffee, maybe. Something that complements and completes the meal, that my wife can share and enjoy while next to me, and which I can take pleasure in as the city goes quiet, night falls and the breezes blow and we talk of nothing in particular. Something, in point of fact, exactly like the Juan Santos.