Apr 302020
 

By the time this review is read, digested and (incredulously) sniffed over and dismissed, somebody out there might well be sharpening pen, tablet or iphone and getting ready to verbally off me online. And no surprisewere I to repeat the hosannas of my original 2012 review of the Millonario XO, which scored what would now be considered a near-unbelievable, is-the-Caner-out-of-his-friggin’-mind? 88 points, I would never be taken seriously again. The rum has become a lightning rod for rum purists, on par with the Diplo Res Ex, Dictador, Zacapa 23 or the Zaya 21, all of which are from South America, feature big numbers and small type and fine print, are almost all soleras (named so or not) and worst of all, are all tarted up with additives of one kind or another to a degree that is off putting in the Age of Foursquare, New Jamaicans and the big Indies.

Such matters in any adulterated rum would itself wouldn’t be all that problematic if (a) these things were spelled out clearly and (b) the labelling wasn’t so self-evidently deceptive and (c) the marketing wasn’t so heavy on the bullsh*t. Rum Nation, which until recently produced and distributed the Millonario (which is made from facilities in Peru), didn’t escape such opprobrium, but since the original XO came out more than ten years back, and since so much of what RN did since then was so well received, I’m guessing some slack was granted for lesser knowledge and expertise back in the day; and as time passed reviews dried upand the Millonario brand, while it sold extremely well, fell into a sort of limbo.

But Fabio Rossi has sold off the Rum Nation name and portfolio to concentrate on this one line of rums, which he evidently prefers (he remains in a consultancy capacity for the RN brand) or which sells a whole lot better. This deserves some consideration since he does know his spirits and has been in the game of rum for over two decades, and undoubtedly picked up a thing or two. And so, when he handed me the 2018 release (which had been matured in 2nd fill sherry casks and was actually stated to have 20g/L of added sugar), although I initially backed off and mumbled something about this not being my cup of tea any longer, honour and curiosity demanded I give it a shot anywayso later I snuck back and tried it.

Let’s be clear, this is not in any sense one of the headliners of the various FB fora where people boast about scoring one. The nose is, bluntly, rather blunt. It’s like sucking a fruity snickers bar. It has a solid, smooth and aromatic nose in which the sweet hassomewhat surprisinglyless omnipresence than I would have expected. With that also comes something of a darkish tone to the experiencechocolate, toffee, molasses, coffee, nougat, vanilla and some fleshy fruitprunes and plums and blackberries I’d say, which lend a certain light citrus element that was unlooked-for and quite surprising. It’s demonstrably not a Demerara, though the resemblance is therebut a newcomer to rum might not see much difference between an ED 12 and this, were they both at the same strength.

What distinguished the taste of the rum then, and again now, through all the years, is its thick firmness which feels akin to having a solid weight brush across the tongue. The original 40% of the XO fails it nowadays (my opinion) but the intriguing thing about pushing the strength up to 50% which this has, is that it kind of works. The tastes on the palate, are, for one, much clearer: there are marshmallows, toblerone, almonds, nuts, coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel, anise, well balanced, melding pleasantly. To this are added berries, watermelon, vanilla and some breakfast spices and cumin if you focus, with a feather bed of a finish closing things offapples, chocolate, bitter coffee grounds, and again, some fruits and vanilla.

A 50% ABV rum like this, a solera (I assumethere is no age statement), sweet, fruity, heavy, firmer than the XO, less elegant than the Solera 15well, it’s not as brutal as a Caroni or New Jamaican, softer than the pot column blends of the Bajans (but not as good, sorryBarbados still gets my coin in a head-to-head)…this rum is not as bad as detractors may feel, and reminds me a lot of what I’ve often said in defense of the XO“there’s a lot more under the hood of this thing than most admit.” But that said, there’s no denying it’s not for everyone, for the same reasons.

I make no apologies for this, offer no excuses, no defenseit is what it is. It’s been sweetened, it feels sticky, it leaves a residue of aromatic sugar in your glass that any insect would happily swim and drown in, and that’s the rum’s cross to bear. Every person who reads this review and is thinking of buying or trying it, has to make their peace with that, to walk away, or give in and accept. What I maintain though, is that it’s not half bad for what it is (and as long as you come to it knowing that), which is why I score it at 79 and not below the median of 75, beneath which a rum is not at all to my taste. I wouldn’t have it in quantity and some wouldn’t have it at all; others would quaff it by the bottle, and still more would have it after dessert only, perhaps with a cigar. I don’t know all of you and what you would do. But you each know who you are. Hopefully this rambling review helps you make up your mind one way or another.

(#722)(79/100)

Mar 162016
 

D3S_3649

More tamed Peruvian sunshine.

It’s been quite a few months since I picked up a Rum Nation product to write about. This is not to say that they have either lapsed in sleep or are resting on the laurels of past achievements, since just the other day they put out some promo materials for two new Guadeloupe rums I’m going to keep an eye out for. However, today I wanted to look at one of their other countries’ offerings, the Peruano 8 year old.

Aficionados are no strangers to rums from that country: both the Millonario XO and Millonario 15 soleras hail from there, Bristol Spirits pushed out an 8 year old Peruvian I quite liked, and Cartavio continues to issue rums such as their own XO Soleraall of which adhere to the medium-to-light, easygoing and sweet profile that excites admiration and despite in equal measure depending on who’s talking. This one matches most closely with the Bristol Spirits version, and that was no slouchit made me reconsider my decades long love affair with pungent Jamaican and Demerara rums (just kidding).

D3S_3650Anyway, the Peruano 8: an dark gold-copper coloured rum, clocking in at 42% ABV, and deriving from the Trujillo gents who also make the Cartavio XO. Fabio told me once that some years back he was seeking a very light, delicate rum to take on Zacapa, and thought he found it in Peru, in the Pomalca distillery which also produces the Cartavio on what looks like a muticolumn still. The initial rums he got from there formed the Millonario 15 and XO rums, and these were successful enough for him to issue a Peruvian in its own right, aged for eight years in bourbon casks. No more mucking about with soleras here.

I certainly approved. Rums like this are easy going and don’t want to smack you over the head with the casual insouciance of a bouncer in a bar at the dodgy end of town, and sometimes it’s a good thing to take a breather from more feral and concussive full proof rums. This one provided all the nasal enjoyment of a warm chesterfield with a couple of broken springs: lightly pungent and aromatic, with a jaggedly crisp edge or two. Cherries, apricots, cloves, nutmeg, some vegetals, chocolate, a slice of pineapple, and sugar water and cucumbers. Kinda weird, but I liked itthe smells harmonized quite well.

The palate was pleasant to experience, and brought back to memory all other Peruvians that came before. The light clarityalmost delicacywas maintained and demonstrated that it is possible to sometimes identify different rums made from the same sourcehere it was almost self-evident. Tannins, vanillas, fruits, brown sugar (too much of this, I thought), some caramel, all melding into each other; peaches in unsweetened cream, some easy chocolate and pineapple flavours and a tart cherry and citrus blast or two allowing a discordancy to draw attention to the softness and lightness of the others. What so distinguished this rum and the others from Peru (including Bristol Spirits’ own Peruvian 8) is the way the various components balanced off so no single one of them really dominatedit was like they had all learned to live together and share the space in harmony. Finish was perfectly fine (if short): sweet, warm, and very much like a can of mixed fruits in syrup just after you open it and drain off the liquid.

I’ve unwillingly come to the conclusion that many Spanish style rumsand particularly these from Peru which I’ve tried to datealmost have to be issued at par proof points. There’s something about their overall delicacy which mitigates against turbocharging them too much. The Millonario XO went in another direction by the inclusion of sugar (for which many have excoriated it), but one senses that were it and its cousins be too strong, it would destroy the structural fragility of the assembly that is their characteristic, and they would simply become starving alley cats of glittering savagery and sharp claws, and that does no-one any favours.

The downside of that approach is that it limits the use such a rum can be put to. Rums this light don’t always make good cocktails, are more for easy sipping (that’s my own personal opinionyou may disagree), and to some extent this drives away those guys who prefer the dark massiveness of a 60% full proof. Still, I’ve made the comment before, that I drink different rums depending on how I’m feeling, and for a pleasant sundowner on the beach when it’s time to relax and unwind (and I’m not unduly pissed off at the universe), this one ticks all the boxes and is a pleasant reminder that not all rums have to beat you over the glottis to get your attention.

(#261. 84.5/100)


Other notes:

  • It could just be me, but I think there’s something else lurking in the background of this rum. It’s slightly deeper and smoother in profile, and definitely sweeter, than the Bristol Spirit’s rum which is the same age. Some subtle dosage, perhaps? No idea. If so, it really wasn’t neededit actually detracts from the profile.
  • Fabio considers this another one of his entry-level rums, and whenever he says that, I always laugh, since his products are usually a cut above the ordinary no matter what they are.
Mar 312015
 

D3S_9014

A clean, warm and smooth rum from Peru, which is extremely accessible to anyone who doesn’t like cask strength rums.

Into the shadowed world of dronish and often-boring label design, the screaming green of the Peruano stands out like a neon tarantula on a wedding cake. It’s an assault on the visual cortex that can’t help but make you catch your breath, mutter an amused “wtf?” and move in for a closer look. Not that this has anything to do with the quality of the rum inside, of course. I merely bring up the point to remark on the fact that originality in any form is a vanishing breed in the rum world and we should be grateful for such small winks from the craft makers even if it’s only a marketing plug.

Bristol Spirits is an independent bottler out of the UK which started life in 1993, and is therefore something of a recent entrant to the field (Cadenhead, by contrast, has been around for over a hundred and fifty years). Their barrel selection from the various countries around the Caribbean has created an enviable track record of limited bottlings; I’ll always have good memories of the Port Mourant 1980, and the 1970s era editions remain on my must-have list. They don’t seem to hew to any particular ageing philosophysome of their older bottlings were aged in the UK, while others, like this one, were kept in situ.

Anyway, the obligatory opening remarks out of the way, what have we got here? An eight year old, molasses-based, column-still rum from Peru, made from the blend of eight barrels (distillery not mentioned) which were then aged at altitude in used bourbon casks before being shipped to Europe. And bottled at what for an independent bottler, seems a rather low-strength 40% (with some exceptions, they make most of their rums at 43-46%)…however, they noted in an email to me that they were quite happy with that proof.

Nosing the blonde spirit gave some clues as to why the decision may have been made in this instance: it was soft, cleanalmost delicate. No pot still could have created something this light and unaggressive (my opinion). Initial smooth scents of hay and vegetal flavours gave way to more luscious soft fruitpeaches, ripe dark cherries, even a touch of mocha, but all very restrained, even shy. It was a rum that if you really wanted to dissect it, you really had to put some effort in.

As I poured it out and sampled it for the first time, I wondered what Bristol was trying to do heremake a competitor to Rum Nation’s Millonario 15, maybe? It shared many of the characteristics of that product: light to medium body, slightly sweet, immediately redolent of white guavas, flowers and a smooth cream cheese. But then it went its own way, and I noted a slight sharp whiff of bitterness emerging, bright and clear like the inlay on a ginsu knife. It was at odds with the easy-going nature of what had come before, while not entirely detracting from itit provided, in fact, a kind of pleasing counterpoint, because the balance of the competing elements was pretty good. Adding water opened up more fruits, vanilla, some oak influence and a whiff of dry tobacco. For a standard strength rum it also exited well, though this was short, shy, bright, a little sharp, as if a can of peaches in syrup had been sprinkled with some cinnamon and lemon juice.

D3S_9017

Independent bottlers tend to be more associated with cask strength behemoths than such laid-back fare, so I was not entirely sure what Bristol’s intentions were, with this Peruvian eight year old. Their recent foray into spiced rum territory makes me worry that perhaps they are abandoning their craft-bottler, limited-edition ethic that produced such incandescent gems as the PM 1980, and now they are swinging for easier sales by diluting down to 40% (they didn’t specifically address that point in they communique to me, and I had not asked). On the other hand, the rum is gentle, even elegant (I had similar feelings about the Juan Santos 21 year old), and so perhaps this was something that had to be done lest additional proofage obliterate the subtler harmonies of what I detected.

Be that as it may, for anyone who likes standard strength rums without too much intensity or in-yer-face attitude, this is a good one. I’d be surprised if more editions from Peru don’t follow this one out the door, in the years to come. Because even with its limited outturn, I think a lot of people will enjoy it, and it leaves us all with another colourful tile in the worldwide mosaic of rumif the label didn’t already provide that, of course.

(#209. 86/100)


Other notes

  • Based solely on the profile, I suspect this hails from the same distillery as the Millonario 15 and XO (Rum Nation never identified it); which implies it was from the Cartavio boys in Trujillo. On the other hand those rums are soleras and this one is not, and Trujillo is at sea level on the coast while Bristol noted the ageing took place at altitude: so the question remains open. For the record, Bristol declined to provide the distillery name or the number of bottles issued, but Fabio Rossi via Henrik from Denmark (see comments below) did acknowledge the source.
  • Marco on Barrel Aged Thoughts has a company profile and product listing for Bristol Spirits (in German), for those who are interested in other aspects of the company.
Mar 302013
 

A Millonario by another name, and as lovely.

Soleras as a rule tend toward the smooth and sweet side, and have a rather full body redolent of all sorts of interesting fruity flavours. My maltster friends regard this type of drink the way they would a sherry bomb (or a disrobed virgin, if one desperate enough could be found), with a mixture of hidden liking and puritan disdain. Still, after having had two fairly dry products in as many weeks, perhaps it was time to relax in a perfumed boudoir instead of the sere desert air. And because the Ron Cartavio XO was from Peru and a solera, I tried it together with the Ron Millonario Solera 15 and the Millonario XO which also hail from there, to see how it stacked up.

The Cartavio XO is pretty much the top of the line made by the company and is priced to match . It arrived in a black tin can and had a wooden tipped cork fixed into place by the twisted wire one might look for in a champagnenice touch. Liked the bottle tootapering, blocky, rounded shoulders, absolutely minimal design esthetic, and etched in gold (the tin can had most of the info, which was as it should be.

Smelling this was an exercise in repressed romanticism. Luscious is not a word that would be out of place to describe it. Creamy, almost like a mild citrus ice-cream, quite smooth and gentle on the nose. Apricots, cherries, vanilla, with just enough background of oaken tannins to provide some character. These scents mellowed gently into flower blossomsin spite of its depth, the nose had a certain soft, clean brightness to it, like the skin of a sleepy baby after being freshly washed and powdered. It was without a doubt better than the Solera 15, but interestingly enough, it lacked some of the complex pungency that so elevated the Millonario XO.

The feel on the tongue was similarly rich and pleasant, though perhaps a shade more acerbic than the Millonario, but beyond that, quiet and heavy and quite aromatic. Here again is a rum that takes its time, being in no hustling rush to get the sipping experience over with. At 40%, there wasn’t going to be any aggro, no yobbish pummelling on the palate, and indeed, from that perspective, I wasn’t expecting any. The rum sang of vanilla and fruit (peaches and dried apricots), dark chocolate, sherry, nuts and a very faint vegetal note, all of which solidified into a rich and serene taste close to the fullness of honey (if not quite so thick).

The one thing it is not quite good at is the exit. Medium long, hints of nuts, caramel, a sweet-salt tang, with a closing flirt of nutmeg. Faintly dry, but not unpleasantly sothe fragrant, almost humid rush of closing scents married well with that profile, yet try it against the Millonario and see if it doesn’t quite come up to that standard. Sure it’s solid and has a pleasant finish (some would sigh beatifically and say “awesome”), yet perhaps it is a shade too quiet and polished and does not demonstrate any kind of singular, individualistic character all its own, that said it was a walk-on-water rumit reminded me more of a liqueur (a very good one, mind), and here I thought there were similarities to other well-made drinks of some age and real quality, like the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old, or the El Dorado 25, which were so well put together (and, unfortunately, so sweet) that they lost that sense of individuality exemplified by their own younger siblings. An issue worth remarking on.

Another point I’d like to make is this: the taste profile of the two XOs is extraordinarily similar. In fact, the two are so close together that I wondered whether Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation didn’t source his rum from Cartavio (for the record, he hedged when asked). It would take real effort to taste them side by side and know right off which was which. I’d say that the Millonario has the upper hand based on a slightly better nose, but in all other respects, these two excellent soleras are on par.

The Cartavio brand of rums was originally made in the coastal town of that name, just north of Lima: sugar cane grows in the area and has been since 1891, though the company was founded in 1929 – this XO is an 80th anniversary edition, quite limited in production. The parent company is Distilerias Unidas SAC, and they use molasses as the raw ingredient combined with a continuous fermentation process, utilizing a John Dore pot still and a continuous still.

Let’s sum up, then. Soft, pungent, all-round lovely, and the taste and palate being the best thing about it. I imagine you can make a cocktail with this rum. What I can’t imagine is why. The Cartavio XO may be among the best examples of passive aggression ever seen in the rum world, because clearly the distillers don’t want you to mix it (and my own takeyou shouldn’t).. By the time you hit to the bottom of this baby, you’ll still be scratching your brow, wondering what the hell that last tiny hint of savour actually was. It really is that good.

In fine, this is a rum that is quiet, gentle, and flows without fuss or turmoil to a serene conclusion. It is a rural country stream, chuckling dreamily over rocks and burbling to its destination with no agendaall it wants is to please, and it succeeds. It lacks the testosterone fury of a full- or overproof rum, and avoids the blandness of more commercial rums that sell by the tanker load: drinking this rum and revelling in its unaggressive and unassuming sophistication is something like loving another repressed person like yourself, dearlyand waiting for the kiss that never quite comes when you want it, but is going to happen, eventually, neverthelessand be worth the wait when it does.

(#150. 88/100)


Other Notes

  • On the tin enclosure and on the website, Cartavio note that the rum is an 18 year old made in the solera method, aged in white oak barrels (some from Slovenia, how cool is that?) but caution must be exercised in what the age statement really means: is it a blend of rums originating from a solera whose average age is eighteen (unlikely, since the math wouldn’t support that); is it a blend of rums averaging eighteen years which then went into a solera process; is it a solera rum that has been in the process for 18 years (my choice for most likely); or is it a solera blend of rums that was then aged for another eighteen years? I simply can’t get resolution on the matter: and it illustrates the issue with pinpointing the true age of a solera rum. For my money, the oldest part of this blend is eighteen, not the youngest. However, note that Josh Miller in early 2016, remarked in his review of the lineup that there isno rum younger than 18 years in the blend.And Matt Pietrek, in a piece on Cartavio, wrote in December 2015 that it was also a true 18 year old.
  • According to wikipedia, Cartavio rums are now made in Aruba. I’m unclear whether “made” means “aged”, “bottled” or both. My bottle makes no such mention, by the way.