Mar 022020
 

Every now and then we find some peculiar, almost completely unknown rum in some unlikely spot, and are struck by exactly how far flung and widespread the production of the spirit really is. I mean, if you aren’t a rumfest junkie or deep diver (and perhaps even if you are), can you recall much about Paraguayan rums?

Paraguay — one of two landlocked countries in South America (quick, name the other one) — is something of a newcomer on the international rum scene, and most of the rums they have made that are distributed abroad have only come on the scene in the last two decades — previously, just about the entire production was local, or regional. And according to some basic research, so far they have stuck with the traditional rons and not gone too far off the reservation. All that is now changing, as they begin to seek a space on the export shelf.

The Heroica we are looking at today is a rum created to take its place alongside its siblings the Black label, the Suave, and the lightly aged Anejos – it is named to commemorate the fallen heroes of the Battle of Piribebuy in August 1869 (part of the devastating Paraguayan War which that country eventually and decisively lost). Yet oddly, it is not mentioned on its website, and neither is either of the other two rums which won prizes in the International Rum Conference in 2015 and 2016.

Here’s what we know – made from rendered sugar cane juice (“honey”), fermented for 72 hours using wild yeast, column distilled, then aged in all kinds of barrels – American oak (ex-bourbon), cognac, Pedro Ximenez and also Marcuya “fruit of passion” wood from Paraguay. Once that’s done, the resultant rons are blended to form the final product. The age is currently unknown — I’ll update this paragraph if I get feedback from their marketing folks — but I’ll hazard a guess it’s medium…about 3-6 years. Little of this, by the way, is noted on the label, which only says it is a Paraguayan rum, commemorates the 1869 battle, is aged in oak vats and 40%. Wonderful. Clearly the word “disclosure” gets more lip service than real purchase over there.

All right, tasting notes. The nose begins with a standard “Cuban” profile – honey, caramel, citrus and faint molasses. These are leavened after some minutes by intriguingly deeper earthy and musky notes of damp soil and wet leaves, some salt and lighter fruits. But mostly it’s the first four — quite straightforward, not too complicated, an easy basket of soft and breathy vapours that cause no problems whatsoever.

The taste pretty much continues in that vein. It’s soft, it’s warm, it’s easy, it demands nothing, and provides a feather pillow for your taste buds. That might seem to be a disqualifier, but while it is to a certain extent simple, it also has enough edge and differences to make to display some character too. One can easily discern and separate honey, cherries in syrup, ice cream, salted nuts, citrus, molasses…underneath all that is the loamy sense of a damp, cool, leafy forest floor, both deep and sharp at the same time. There is a vague aftertaste of nuttiness and sour cream and bread, but this is relatively minor, adding little to the complexity of what’s on offer. And it finishes fast — soft, a quick whiff of toffee, nougat and candied oranges, and it’s gone.

In fine, there’s not much urgent vitality and shivering strength here, nothing to wow the socks off or blow the hair back. It lacks punch and vibrancy, is too easygoing to appeal to me (though clearly not to its adherents and national fans) and seems to want to play it safe within the overall ambit of Spanish style rons. Still, it exhibits more of interest than these remarks might suggest and I think the low strength might be key to understanding how it fails to excite the attention that it could get were it stronger, and those background tastes could come out more decisively.

Spanish-heritage-style rums from South and Central America all have a certain similarity, and while I don’t care for their light softness as much as I once did, I continue examining any new one that crosses my path in the hope of finding one that’ll rejuvenate my affection for their softer charms. This isn’t it, but just for the opportunity to dive into a new rum from a country that’s not renowned for rum and that has produced one we have not heard of before, I can’t say that trying this one was a waste of my time. Fortunately, I liked it enough, and for anyone who likes this kind of ron, I doubt they’d be disappointed in their turn.

(#706)(79/100)


Historical Background

Fortin dates from the post-1989 era and takes advantage of a change in legislation regarding alcohol at that time. From 1941 to 1989 the production and sale of alcohol (and spirits) was a state monopoly, run by the Paraguayan Alcohol Corporation in which the Government and producers both had stakes. Officially this was to rationalize standards, assign quotas, regulate competition and prevent tax evasion, but in reality it was to ensure the commercial elites went into business with the government to share in / siphon off the revenues. After Alfredo Stroessner (the last of a series of military jefes ruling since the 1930s) was toppled in 1989 the laws were relaxed and private industry began to revive.

Fortin was formed around 1993 as a sugar producer by Gustavo Díaz de Vivar, and although it started in Capiatá area to the immediate SE of the capital, Asunción, the company soon moved further east to the town of Piribebuy; after the sugar business took off, he and his son Javier Díaz de Vivar (the current president of Fortin) diversified into rum production with a multi-column still bolted onto the already existing sugar factory they had built. I have an outstanding email to them about their production methods over and above what this article provides (e.g., where does the cane and honey come from?) so an update may come if they respond.

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 Solera — all 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 slouch…it 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 it – the smells harmonized quite well.

The palate was pleasant to experience, and brought back to memory all other Peruvians that came before.  The light clarity — almost delicacy — was maintained and demonstrated that it is possible to sometimes identify different rums made from the same source…here 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 dominated…it 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 rums — and particularly these from Peru which I’ve tried to date — almost 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 opinion…you 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 needed…it 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 philosophy – some 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, clean…almost 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 fruit – peaches, 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 here – make 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 it – it 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 rum…if 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.
Jan 062012
 

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. 

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.

(#099. 77/100)

 

Aug 062011
 

Publicity Photo (c) Casa Santana

First posted 06 August 2011 on Liquorature.

A steal at the price, the 21 holds its own against rums costing twice as much, and might be better known and sell more if the tag was higher.  I think of it like I do a Nissan GT-R – too cheap to be taken seriously as a supercar, but a performer that can give any of the top dogs a run for their money.  If you see it and you have the cash to spare, my recommendation is to get it.

The Juan Santos 21 year old is the epitome of the Casa Santana group’s rum line. It is a poem in a bottle, a liquid symphony of brown and gold, of smell and taste, and quite possibly one of the best aged rums available for under a hundred bucks. Anywhere.

It is made in Colombia, an unappreciated nation in South America better known for narcotics and coffee, violence and political upheaval.  Yet they speak the purest Spanish in the world outside of Iberia. Democratic traditions survive in spite of FARC and narco barons that would derail many another state. Colombia is the world’s largest supplier of emeralds, possesses a dynamic and educated workforce (I know – I worked with four of them and was hugely impressed by each), and, like every country under the sun, claims its beaches are whiter and its women more beautiful than anyplace else on earth.  Now they can add another cachet to their national pride – this rum. The Santana company has been making rums in the Cuban style since 1994 – I’ve heard that it was Cubans who started the enterprise, see below – and yet have made only limited inroads in the Canadian market.  Bacardi, Lamb’s and Screech, together with Cruzan and a few other one-rum-here-one-rum-there variations still dominate liquor shelves here, in spite of both the Arctic Wolf and myself suggesting the product is good value for money.

The 21 is all wrapped up in a look that does a neat jiu-jitsu on the Pyrat Cask 1623 rum, which had a phenomenal aesthetic appeal and little else.   Perhaps the trick is not to let the 21’s presentation put one off – it’s not lackluster, precisely…more like undistinguished.  The label is cluttered and busy with a pattern of muted colours (contrast that against the vivid backdrops of the Appletons, or the simplicity of the Mount Gay labels), and the bottle is, umm, just a bottle.  One might be forgiven for missing the “21” in the title altogether, and tripping over it in some surprise.  Huh?  Veinte-uno? Que es esto?

The rum itself is a light brownish gold.  It poured nicely into the glass and swirling gently showed thinner legs than I would have expected – it evidently lacked the heaviness, the oiliness which would have indicated a deeper flavor profile and a longer fade.  Still, the nose was nothing to sneeze at: it was all soft and silk, no sting and no burn, and held promising notes of toffee, brown sugar, a very delicate hint of flowers…and a bit of coffee.  Given that Juan Santos also makes a very pleasant underproof café, I found this to be no more than appropriate.

The taste was by any standards nothing short of excellent.  Juan Santos 21 arrived unheralded, with no blaring tantara of orange trumpets such as you’d find in the rather obnoxious Pyrat’s XO or 1623.  It slunk onto my palate, and stayed there. What I got was a smooth and soft liquid gold that some master blender may well have put his cojones into hock to the Almighty to produce. There was hardly any bite or burn at all – pretty good for a rum at 40% – with a remarkable depth of flavor for which the initial pour I noted above had done nothing to prepare me.  I was expecting something a tad on the thin side, maybe some citrus hints, a clear sort of taste in line with the lighter colour and clean nose – what I got was a rye-and-rum combo that was deeper, darker and more flavourful than it had any right to be.  Caramel, burnt sugar, yes, of course – but also breakfast spices, some cinnamon, that coffee again (maybe Juan Valdez is a relative?) and nutmeg lending some gentle muskiness it all. I was, to put it mildly, impressed – twenty one years in oak had been mellowed and balanced out and blended so well that it was a smooth balm to the taste buds.

And the finish was no slouch either: thin legs or no, there was enough oil left in the rum to make a lasting impression that did not bail in a hurry with a harsh knock to the tonsils, merely stayed and lingered, like an old friend whose goodbyes can take a few minutes longer than the average, simply because there’s always one last thing to say. The 21 was so smooth and so languorous, that it actually seemed to stay a lot longer than it did. There were no harsh afterburns or tastes or anything, and quite frankly, if my personal preference hadn’t been for darker rums of greater body, I’d rate this one even higher than I do – for those that like a good quality sipping rum that’s right up there, look no further, since this single ~$85 rum will give you just about everything you’re after.

In discussing the Juan Santos with the store manager at Co-op where I bought it, he remarked that for him this absolutely eclipsed the Zaya which had been his go-to tipple of choice up to that point.  I don’t quite agree it should eclipse anything, since I have a pretty good collection of rums I like as much or more than the 21, and each has their place in my life, depending on the crabbiness of my mood (I drink harsh rotgut rums with minimal cola when I’m angry) whether I want to mix it and get a pleasant buzz on (medium-tier five year olds are good for this), get loaded fast (pick any 151, alert the wife and move out) or simply watch the sun go down (any top end sipping rum of your choice). That said, there’s no question in my mind that the Juan Santos 21 year old, for its price, offers a value for money that other top guns costing twice as much (and with only incrementally greater quality) would do well to observe.  Price is no guarantor of quality, I wrote for my negative Pyrat 1623 review, meaning that a high price sometimes nets you a dog.  Here, with this rum, Juan Santos proves that the reverse is also true, and that a reasonably low cost for an aged rum is no indicator of a lack of any kind.

(#081)(Unscored)


Background (Added in 2021)

Juan Santos rums are produced by Santana Liquors out of Baranquilla, a free trade seaport zone in the north of Colombia, on the Caribbean Sea. The company also makes various brands for other markets, like the somewhat better-known La Hechicera and Ron Santero labels (Ron Santero is the US brand name for Juan Santos, the latter of which is only sold in Canada). Their website and Forbes notes that they started operations in 1994 when their founders – assumed to be the Riascos business family – brought over some rum makers from Cuba, and an article in el Tiempo notes they are the only family owned (private) rum company in Colombia — all others are apparently part of the Colombian government monopoly.

However, it does not appear that they are actually in the business of distilling themselves, not are they primary producers of anything. They have no sugar cane fields, nor a refinery nor a distillery – at least not that they promote on their own materials and company websites –  unless it is the winery they also own and operate, which is where their barrels of rum are aged.  What they do, appears to be to act as third party blenders, much as Banks DIH does in Guyana. La Hechicera, their companion brand now distributed by Pernod Ricard who bought a stake in 2021, is often spoken about in rum circles as sourcing barrels and stocks of rum from around South America and then blending and bottling them in Colombia as “Colombian” rums. But they certainly don’t make anything of their own on a distillery.

As an additional note, Juan Santos rums no longer appear to be available in primary markets and online web shops – it has been almost a decade since I sourced mine, so sometime in the mid-2010s I suspect it may have been discontinued.

Juan Santos Añejo 12 Year Old Gran Reserva Colombian Rum – Review

 Comments Off on Juan Santos Añejo 12 Year Old Gran Reserva Colombian Rum – Review
Apr 252011
 

First posted 25 April 2011 on Liquorature

Smooth, soft and unprepossessing, this may be one of the best 12 year old you never heard about. Coming from a maker formed less than two decades ago, it’s quite an achievement to create a rum of such overall worth. 

It seems that sooner or later one always makes a discovery both unexpected and wholly pleasant. In recent months since I first tried the excellent 9 year old, I’ve realized that Juan Santos rums have been one of mine, and with the exception of the coffee infused underproof, which I do not really regard as a true rum, they have, for each age, been quite and quietly superb. And yet they have a surprisingly low profile – they rarely get mentioned in online fora, reviews of their products are practically nonexistent (aside from web-shop listings with a note or two on flavour), and their rums are to be found intermittently at best. Odd for a rum this good

Here I had the 12 year old to take a look at.  The labelling and bottle shape are consistent with the 21, the 9, and the 5 – the Santana company has been at pains to ensure conformity across their line with only minor differences in the labelling – within a clear etched bottle possessing wide shoulders and a sloping bottom.  Plastic cork – I can’t stand cheap tinfoil, and have recently concluded the plastic corks are pretty good for ensuring a tight seal that doesn’t flake like old cork sometimes does, so this is all to the good.  And, oh yeah – a bunch of the Edmonton Rum Chums around me.  I was tasting this informally, in the company of the Arctic Wolf and some of his compadres, with a follow-up when I got back home two days later to formalize my rather incoherent notes.

There was a smooth and oily consistency to the dark golden liquor (darker then the 9) when poured into the glass; it sheened slowly down the sides and only later separated into fat plump legs. And the nose was like the 9 year old…but better.  No sting and medicinal nasties here, but a softness mixed with spice – faint caramel and sugar entwined with molasses and fruits and burnt sugar.  None of these aromas were in any way assertive or overbearing or dominating: they were each and every one distinct, clear yet subtle, and balanced in a way I had not yet experienced in a rum.

On the palate, the Juan Santos 12 year old  retained some of that clarity and medium bodied nature; and it was soft too – it seemed to be more like a ballet dancer, hiding strength and power behind a pattern of smoothness and elegant moves. The rum coated the tongue so well and was such a smooth spirit that one could easily get lost in the softness and never remember afterwards exactly what had been tasted – though for the record, the arrival was of caramel and burnt sugar, cinnamon and breakfast spices, and just enough sugar to marry these tastes together well.  It reminded me in its cleanliness of taste of nothing so much as very well steeped medium dark tea.

Where I’d have to say the rum fell down was, oddly enough, in the finish.  Not that it was bad.  Far from it. What it was, for me, was that it was cursory. It was too quick, and veiled itself too fast, as if, after all that excellent smell and taste, it suddenly grew shy and with a flirt of flavour it disappeared in a noncommital fade that left almost no taste behind, only a sort of buttery caramel, and a slight and expected alcohol sting. A shame after the overall worth of the beginning, but not enough for me to say it’s bad, merely a tad disappointing.

The Casa Santana company was formed in 1994 in Columbia with the avowed intention of producing the country’s premium rum.  Currently they produce the Ron Santero brand which is what the Juan Santos, relabelled for import to Canada by the Liber Group, actually is. A rose by any other name, is my response to this relabelling, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re doing a good job with their rums no matter what the title, and I want more.  Aged in American bourbon barrels, the aged rums, as per Columbian nomenclature laws, state the age of the youngest rum in the blends, and for this also, I give them full marks.

It is, then, an excellent entry from Juan Santos into the middle aged category, and if perhaps it is not quite on the level of the English Harbour or the St Nicholas Abbey 10 year old rums, it is at the very least on par with the El Dorado 12, is a good rum to sip or mix, and in no way a bad rum, or a lesser one: and once again I’m thinking that we really should agitate to get more of these rums from Columbia on our shelves.

I must concede here that good as it was, the 12 wasn’t solely responsible for the stellar evening I had with the Chums, for sure.  But it didn’t hurt, aided quite a it, and just as some tastes and scents evoke specific memories, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have this unassuming, unpretentious Columbian gem again without remembering a laughter filled evening of jokes and rum talk and the company of new squaddies, pleasantly found, enjoyably experienced and around whose table I felt right at home.

(#076. 81/100)


Background (Added in 2021)

Juan Santos rums are produced by Santana Liquors out of Baranquilla, a free trade seaport zone in the north of Colombia, on the Caribbean Sea. The company also makes various brands for other markets, like the somewhat better-known La Hechicera and Ron Santero labels (Ron Santero is the US brand name for Juan Santos, the latter of which is only sold in Canada). Their website and Forbes notes that they started operations in 1994 when their founders – assumed to be the Riascos business family – brought over some rum makers from Cuba, and an article in el Tiempo notes they are the only family owned (private) rum company in Colombia — all others are apparently part of the Colombian government monopoly.

However, it does not appear that they are actually in the business of distilling themselves, not are they primary producers of anything. They have no sugar cane fields, nor a refinery nor a distillery – at least not that they promote on their own materials and company websites –  unless it is the winery they also own and operate, which is where their barrels of rum are aged.  What they do, appears to be to act as third party blenders, much as Banks DIH does in Guyana. La Hechicera, their companion brand now distributed by Pernod Ricard who bought a stake in 2021, is often spoken about in rum circles as sourcing barrels and stocks of rum from around South America and then blending and bottling them in Colombia as “Colombian” rums. But they certainly don’t make anything of their own on a distillery.

As an additional note, Juan Santos rums no longer appear to be available in primary markets and online web shops – it has been almost a decade since I sourced mine, so sometime in the mid-2010s I suspect it may have been discontinued.

Juan Santos 7 Yr Old Cafè – Review

 Comments Off on Juan Santos 7 Yr Old Cafè – Review
Apr 162011
 

First posted 16 April 2011 on Liquorature

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 biscuit physique 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? This liqueur by anther name?

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 year old 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.

(#074) (Unscored)


Background (Added in 2021)

Juan Santos rums are produced by Santana Liquors out of Baranquilla, a free trade seaport zone in the north of Colombia, on the Caribbean Sea. The company also makes various brands for other markets, like the somewhat better-known La Hechicera and Ron Santero labels (Ron Santero is the US brand name for Juan Santos, the latter of which is only sold in Canada). Their website and Forbes notes that they started operations in 1994 when their founders – assumed to be the Riascos business family – brought over some rum makers from Cuba, and an article in el Tiempo notes they are the only family owned (private) rum company in Colombia — all others are apparently part of the Colombian government monopoly.

However, it does not appear that they are actually in the business of distilling themselves, not are they primary producers of anything. They have no sugar cane fields, nor a refinery nor a distillery – at least not that they promote on their own materials and company websites –  unless it is the winery they also own and operate, which is where their barrels of rum are aged.  What they do, appears to be to act as third party blenders, much as Banks DIH does in Guyana. La Hechicera, their companion brand now distributed by Pernod Ricard who bought a stake in 2021, is often spoken about in rum circles as sourcing barrels and stocks of rum from around South America and then blending and bottling them in Colombia as “Colombian” rums. But they certainly don’t make anything of their own on a distillery.

As an additional note, Juan Santos rums no longer appear to be available in primary markets and online web shops – it has been almost a decade since I sourced mine, so sometime in the mid-2010s I suspect it may have been discontinued.