May 132021
 

There are some older bottles in the review queue for products from what I term the “classic” era of the Swiss / German outfit of Secret Treasures, and it’s perhaps time to push them out the door in case some curious person ever wants to research them for an auction listing or something. Because what Secret Treasures are making now is completely different from what they did then, as I remarked in my brief company notes for last week’s entry on the “Carony” rum they released in 2003.

In short, from a traditional indie bottler who exactingly and carefully selects single barrels from a broker and bottles those, the company has of late gone more in the direction of a branded distributor, like, say, 1423 and its Companero line. That’s not a criticism, just an observation: after all, there’s a ton of little single-barrel-releasing indies out there alreadyone more won’t be missedand not many go with the less glamorous route of releasing blends in quantity, though those tend to be low-rent reliable money spinners.

But returning to Secret Treasures’ rums of “the good old days”. This one is from Venezuela: column still product, 42% ABV, 1716 bottle outturn. The label is in that old-fashioned design, noting the date of distillation as 1992 and the distillery of origin as Pamperobut it should be noted there is a “new-style label” pot-still edition released in 2002 with a completely different layout, sharing some of the same stats, the reason for which is unknown. As an aside for the curious, the Venezuelan Pampero distillery itself was formed in 1938 and remained a family concern until it was sold to Guiness in 1991; it is now a Diageo subsidiary, making the Pampero series of light rums like the Especial, Anejo, Seleccion and Oro. Clearly they also did bulk rum sales back in the 1990s.

So that’s the schtick. The rum tasting now. Sorry for the instant spoiler, but it’s meh. The nose is okay and provided one has not already had something stronger (I had not) then aromas of caramel, creme brulee and toffee can easily be discerned, with some light oakiness, dark chocolate, smoke and old leather. A touch of indeterminate fruitiness sets these off, some unsweetened yoghurt, plus vague citrusand that word is a giveaway, because this whole thing is like that: vague.

Tasting it reinforces the impression of sleepy absent-mindedness. The rum tastes warm, quite easy, creamy, with both salt and sweet elements, like a good sweet soya sauce. Caramel and toffee again, a hot strong latte, oak, molasses and a nice touch of mint. The citrus wandered off somewhere and the fruits are all asleep. This is not a palate guaranteed to impress, I’m afraid. The finish is odd: it’s surprisingly long lasting; nice and warm, some molasses, coffee, bon bons, but it begs the question of where all the aromas and final closing tastes have vanished to.

You’re tasting some alcoholic rummy stuff, sure, but what is it? That’s the review in a nutshell, and I doubt my score would have been substantially higher even back in the day when I was pleased with less. You sense there’s more in there, but it never quite wakes up and represents. From where I’m standing, it’s thin teaa light and relatively simple, a quiet rum that rocks no boats, makes no noise, takes no prisoners. While undeniably falling into the “rum” category, what it really represents is a failure to engage the drinker, then or nowwhich may be the reason nobody remembers it in 2021, or even cares that they don’t.

(#820)(78/100)


Other notes

  • Comes from a blend of four barrels
  • Sold on Whisky Auction for £50 in 2018. Rumauctioneer’s May 2021 session has anew designblue label bottle noted above, currently bid to £17

Historical background

Initially Secret Treasures was the brand of a Swiss concern called Fassbind SA (SA stands for Société Anonyme, the equivalent to PLC – the wesbite is at www.Fassbind.ch) — who had been in the spirits business since 1846 when when Gottfried I. Fassbind founded the “Alte Urschwyzer” distillery in Oberarth to make eau de vie (a schnapps). He was a descendant of Dutch coopers who had emigrated to Switzerland in the 13th century and thus laid the foundation for what remains Switzerland’s oldest distillery.

They make grappa, schnapps and other spirits and branched out into rums in the early 2000s but not as a producer: in the usual fashion, rums at that time were sourced, aged at the origin distillery (it is unclear whether this is still happening in 2021), and then shipped to Switzerland for dilution with Swiss spring water to drinking strength (no other inclusions). In that way they conformed to the principles of many of the modern indies.

Fassbind’s local distribution was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, a Swiss distributor, yet they seem to have walked away from the rum side of the business, as the company website makes mention of the rum line at all. Current labels on newer editions of the Secret Treasures line refers to a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off as neither Swiss concern has any of the branded bottles in their portfolio.

Certainly the business has changed: there are no more of the pale yellow labels and sourced single barrel expressions as I found back in 2012. Now Secret Treasures is all standard strength anonymous blends like aged “Caribbean” and “South American” rum, a completely new bottle design and the Haromex logo prominently displayed with the words “Product of Germany” on the label.

 

Dec 072020
 

In spite of being better known for the exceptional single cask line that made the name of the Compagnie des Indes (at least, with this writer), it was the later blends that sold a lot better and moved off the shelves with more alacrity. Independent bottlers are businessmen, and while sentiment may have them prefer the tuxedo-crowd snoot-rums, it’s the low-end tanker loads that keep the company afloat (a matter not restricted to the Compagnie) and therefore get made.

Compagnie des Indes has a whole lot more blends than is immediately apparent: the Darklice, Dominidad, Kaiman, Latino, Caraibes and Boulet de Canon series spring to mind (the Boulet is into its 9th iteration already), and more recently the West Indies, Jamaica and the Oktoberum series, and the subject of today’s review, the Veneragua.

This last is a blend of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan distillate (3 barrels from the former, 2 from the latter), with all the usual mystery behind the mashup. That’s hardly a problem for the Nicaraguan component since that’s the Flor people, but Venezuela is a tad bigger and has a few more distilleries, so I’m not sure who provided that part. The outturn is 1911 bottles, making it a small- to mid-sized release (a single barrel release is usually 300 bottle or so). We can assume it’s a light distillate, column still, and the label informs us it’s 13 years old, which I’m going to say was continental ageing all the way.

More than that I don’t have so let’s move right along. Nose first: it’s delicate fast-dissipating sugar-cane juice, grass and herbals, with a more solid core of caramel drizzled over condensed milk and shave-ice by the sno-cone man. Left standing for a while, it develops aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, licorice, white chocolate, ice cream and some light fruitspears and raisins, mostly, and some lychees.

The palate is pretty nice to sipthe strength of 45% makes it warm and silky, with light tones and accents. The tastes are primarily flowers and fruits and spicesnougat, almonds, grapes, raisins, and the crisp snap of ginger. All underlain with caramel, tobacco, coffee grounds and red wine hints, some burnt sugar, but little in the way of tart acidic fruitiness that would balance these off. The finish was relatively short, with clear-cut vanilla, crushed walnuts, almonds and port-infused tobacco and a last bit of salted caramel.

So, thoughts. I liked itkind of. Nothing super exciting here, just a well done rum. It lacked specificity, which has always been blended rums’ strength and weakness as a category, because a rum made for everyone in general is also one made for nobody in particular. Blends remain the same for long periods and are geared towards mass audiences, which may say something about the Compagnie’s strategy and long term marketing aims. It’s not often appreciated that erudite reviews of single barrel or limited releases, high points scores and fanboy partisanship may raise awareness and appreciation of a rum company’s halo products, but those are bought by a very tiny sliver of the purchasing public. They don’t shift the needle of the bottom line appreciablyin other words, there’s a reason why Bacardi and Tanduay and McDowell’s are the behemoths they are and smaller companies renowned for their single barrel cask strength rums are not.

I think Florent gets this very well. Without making a big point of it, he continues issuing his limited editions from specific distilleries, just like IBs the world over do; but in the meantime, he has his eye on what pays the bills. The rums he blends do that and are, happily, quite good enough to please many.

Therefore, for anyone who wishes to just have a decent low strength sipping rum without a lot of complex and aggressive tastes and scents jostling and demanding attention, who desires a good drink with enough complexity at an affordable price to chase the evening away, the Veneragua is perfectly fine. It simply chooses not to play in those rarefied regions inhabited by more limited and more exclusive drinks extolled by the never-silent uber-commentators. The Compagnie has other rums that live there. This one happily moves in a more approachable, less exacting stratum.

(#783)(81/100)

Dec 152019
 

After all these years, there isn’t an average imbiber who hasn’t tried the Venezuelan Santa Teresa Ron Antiguo de Solera 1796 (to give its full and somewhat unwieldy title) at least once. It’s a solera rum which usually sets alarm bells ringing for those who want both more disclosure and less additives, but somehow Santa Teresa has managed, through all the years, to navigate the treacherous shoals of too much or too little and remained a consistent, if not top tier, favourite of the entire tippling class. Given the rancour and fury that often attends such rums by the social media commentariat, that’s no mean achievement.

Consider: there are nine separate micro-reviews on reddit for this thing, and on the RumRatings site, it has 437 ratings, of which more than 80% rate it 7 points or higher. Online magazines and aggregators like Distiller, Flaviar, Tastings, WineMag, Got Rum, Drink Hacker and Proof 66 have written extensively about its voluptuous charms. Even the blogosphere has always looked at it, always reviewed it, sometimes as one of their first rum reviews. Alex of the Rum Barrel, The Fat Rum Pirate, myself, the Rum Howler, Refined Vices, Ralfy, All At Sea, Rum Shop Boy, Rum Diaries Blog, Rum Gallery, Inu A Kenaall of us between 2006 and 2019 have, at some stage, tried the thing, and its popularity shows no sign of fading. If there was ever a gateway rum for the Latin style that isn’t from Panama or Cuba, then this is it (the Diplo may be another).

I think part of that is because there’s nothing excessive about it. Nor is there anything overly modest. It certainly evades the trap of turning into an over-sugared mess, or one where that’s all you taste, because the sweet, such as it is, is kept completely in the background. An August 2019 hydrometer testminerates it as 36.96% ABV, which translates into 12g/Lnot good, but hardly earth shaking when compared to other latin rums which have twice or three times that much, and many earlier reviews and tests actually showed none at all (this suggests either batch variation or an evolution in production philosophy); a Santa Teresa rep as recently as 2018 in an interview with Simon Johnson, stated flat out they don’t adulterate their rum. So, if you accept that, the only complaint that could be raised against it is that it really should be a few points stronger.

The nose is different from my admittedly fading tasting memories of ten years ago, when I first sampled it at a Liquorature get together in Calgary. Then I felt it had mostly standard South American aged rum componentsvanilla, caramel, honey, light fruits, all rather low key. Now the blend presented otherwise: I was tasting glue, sugar cane sap, floor polish, varnish right up front, and I know that wasn’t any part of what I was smelling before. The 40% ABV still makes it too weak to mount an effective and aggressive nasal assault, and that is an issue they will have to address sooner or laterbut at least, with some effort I also sensed very ripe apples, apricots, cherries in syrup, plus a dusting of cinnamon, molasses, caramel, and a little bite from oak, unsweetened dark chocolate and light orange peel.

It’s inoffensive in the extreme, there’s little to dislike here (except perhaps the strength), and for your average drinker, much to admire. The palate is quite good, if occasionally vaguelight white fruits and toblerone, nougat, salted caramel ice cream, bon bons, sugar water, molasses, vanilla, dark chocolate, brown sugar and delicate spicescinnamon and nutmeg. It’s darker in texture and thicker in taste than I recalled, but that’s all good, I think. It fails on the finish for the obvious reason, and the closing flavours that can be discerned are fleeting, short, wispy and vanish too quick.

When rated against other rums of its type, the main competitors are the Zacapa, Zafra, Diplomatico Res Ex, the Kirk and Sweeney, or even the Millonario XO or Dictador. But I always found K&S to be too fixated on a particular “cinnamon-lite” profile; Diplo, Zafra and Zacapa were oversugared in comparison; and the Millonario XO was too excessive in both areas, as was Dictador with that coffee note it likes so much. Other producers of rums similar to the 1796 — solera or otherwiseare simply too small and lack market share, and impinge hardly at all in the larger popular consciousness (Don Q and Bacardi are different for other reasons).

But I believe that after all the years since 1996 when it was introduced (for Santa Tersa’s 200th Anniversary), there are good reasons it remains a fixture in the global rumscape and a perennial popular seller. As noted above, it can be found just about everywhere in a way that other Caribbean rums aren’t always; it’s extremely well known, and remains affordable to this day (around US$40 or so) — which is good for any average Joe who can’t always get or afford a New Jamaican or Barbadian or St. Lucian or Guyanese rum. Moreover, it just tastes good enough for most and can be used as a gateway rum for Latin/Spanish style rums in general and Venezuelan ones in particular. Of course, like most gateway rums, if you stick around long enough you’ll inevitably think one day that it’s too weak, too easy and too simple and move smartly along to the next milestone on the journeybut for anyone now starting and not looking to go anywhere, this is as lovely a Key Rum of the World as any on the list before it.

(#684)(78/100)


Other Notes (adapted from 2010 review)

Santa Teresa distillery is located in Venezuela about an hour east of the capital, Caracas, on land given by the King of Spain to a favoured count in 1796. The estate ended up in the hands of a Gustavo Vollmer Rivas, who began making rum from sugar produced on nearby estates – owned by other Vollmerses – in the late 1800s. The Santa Teresa 1796 was produced in 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the estate land grant, and, produced by the solera method.

In the solera process, a succession of barrels is filled with rum over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in the solera is tapped for part of its content (say, half), which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles. In the Santa Teresa, there are four levels of ageing. And the final solera is topped up with “Madre” spirit, which is a young blend deriving from both columnar and pot stills. Seems a bit complicated to me, but sherry makers have been doing it for centuries in Spain, so why not for rum? The downside is, of course, that there’s no way of saying how old it is since it is such a blend of older and younger rums. The marketing for the 1796 says the rum has components of between 4 to 35 years of age in it.

Sep 062019
 

If Diplomatico’s Distillery Collection No.1 (the one from the kettle still) was a garden sprinkler trying to be a fire hose, then this one is no more than a quick leg-lift against the tree. It is a decent enough rum for the style, but lacks any kind of serious chops to make it rise above its more famous and distinct Distillery Collection siblings, or even that perennial favourite of the tippling class, the Diplo Res Ex. And that makes its price-point and supposed street cred a dubious proposition at best.

The Distillery Collection is an attempt by Diplomatico to capitalize on their various stills, much as St. Lucia Distillers or DDL do. The rums also functionmaybeto deflect attention away from their traditionally added-to products of the line, or even to break into previously untapped and dismissed niche markets for the more discerning rum drinkers. Unlike the No.1 which comes from a pot still, the No.2 owes its origin to a straight-out French-made Barbet column still, which leads one to wonder what the purpose was, because what came out the other end wasn’t anything we haven’t had before.

I’m not kidding. The nose was lighter than the No.1no shocks there, though the ABV was the same in both, 47%. Some smokiness, light oak, salt caramel ice cream, tobacco, molasses and some brine but it lacks any kind of acidic bite of (say) citrus, and there is barely any of the fruitiness that would have made it better. You’ll sense the vague sweetness of bananas, squash, papaya, melonsthose neutral fruits which add little to the experiencemaybe an apple starting to go, and will have to be content with that.

Unsurprisingly, the palate dials into those same coordinates: it’s warm, light, smooth, unaggressive, with the musky tastes of muscovado sugar, molasses, caramel, toffee, toblerone (the white kind). Then it falters, not because of these things, but because of the stuff that’s not there, the tart balancing notes, the sharper parts of the profile that are notable only for their lightness or complete absenceflorals, fruits, oakiness. Sometimes a reasonably robust proof point rescues or bolsters such deficienciesnot here. It all leads to a lacklustre finish of medium length which displays no closing notes one would hurry back to the glass to experience: it had some salt caramel, light and overripe fruit notes, some vanilla, and it was all quite light anddare I say it? – indifferent.

Ivar de Laat, the Dutch-born FB-commentator who recently began his own site Rum Revelations, made an interesting comment on the No.1 and Diplomaticothat they were light rum makers and it would be too much to expect them to make big and bold rums without a massive internal cultural changewhich he felt was unlikely given that such rums are their style, the one upon which their revenues rested. And “as long as it’s making them money, I don’t see why they should change it.”

That’s the subtle trap of these rums, because if producers only make what sells, then there’d be ten times as many dosed rums out there (pure rums at high proof have to be really good to be sellers to succeed, because their prices are higher). We are being offered incremental change at a premium, but without real improvement or major difference. It’s cosmetic. In the case of the No.2, it’s plain boring. I could live with such a deficiency in the pot still No.1 which was at least interesting, if ultimately stopping short of being a rave recommendation. But in a column still product being marketed with pizzazz and hooplah and a tantara of trumpetsnaaah.

So I give it 75, which is on the median between good and bad. It’s a rum that tastes like one and technically can be had without a problemit would be incorrect for me to penalize what is not a really crappy product, and which many will like (assuming they can afford it, or want to). Its true failure lies in the expectations it raises and the price it commands, without deserving either. When it comes to the loosening of my purse strings, then, like Bartleby, I think I’ll chose not to.

(#654)(75/100)

Sep 042019
 

Outside the independents who release from all points of the compass, the rums du jour are the New Jamaicans, the pot still Bajans, the wooden-still Guyanese, the fancy St Lucian still-experimentals, French island aged and unaged rums, new Asian whites, grogues and of course the clairins (and we’re all waiting for Renegade). In the maelstrom of so many releases, Latin rums as a class are less popular than in their heydey, outside their countries of origin, and even I tend to view them with some impatience at times, wondering when they’re going to get back in the game with some sh*t-kicking romper-stomper of their own.

Although Diplomatico’s Reserva Exclusiva sells well and remains popular, the company’s online buzz as a whole has sagged in recent years. Efforts to revive the global awareness of the Diplo-brand with exclusive premiums like the Single Vintage or the Ambassador may have succeededbut the absence of any stories or articles or reviews or gleeful “I got this!” photos on social media suggests a rather more downbeat story for the company that was once known as Problemático. Their success is therefore hard to gauge in an increasingly crowded and informed marketplace spoiled for choice at every price point (and every additive point, the wit suggests).

Things took an interesting turn around 2017 when No.1 and No.2 versions of the “Distillery Collection” were trotted out with much fanfare. The purpose of the Collection was to showcase other stills they hada “kettle” (sort of a boosted pot still, for release No.1), a Barbet continuous still (release No.2) and an undefined pot still (release No.3, released in April 2019). These stills, all of which were acquired the year the original company was founded, in 1959, were and are used to provide the distillates which are blended into their various commercial marques, and until recently, such blends were all we got. One imagines that they took note of DDL’s killer app and the rush by Jamaica and St Lucia to work with the concept and decided to go beyond their blended range into something more specific.

We’ll look at the No.1 today. This derives from cane “honey” (which is just rendered cane juice), aged for six years in American oak, a 5000 bottle outturn of 47% ABV. The question of course, is whether it deserves the cachet of “premium” and the price it commands, and whether it displaces the perennial front runner, the DRE (marketed as ‘Botucal’ in Germany).

So, briefly, tasting notes, then. Nose: started off promisingly with some pencil shavings, fresh and damp sawdust, followed by brine, good olive oil and leather. These aromas were balanced off with overripe cherries, citrus, apples, ripe grapes, which in turn provided a backdrop for heavier, muskier notes of caramel, molasses and oatmeal cookies. So definitely a step away from the more standard fare, and the 47% ABV helped give the nose a firmness and coherence that a lesser proof would not have.

I also liked the palateup to a point. It was warm and fragrant and yeasty as bread fresh out of the oven. One could taste vanilla, treacle, oatmeal with chocolate chips and butter, a nice creamy/cereal-y sort of amalgam, and fruits then popped uplight apples, pears, watermelon, raisins, that kind of thingcombining with a delicate citrus line, leading to a short, arm, inoffensive finish that was mostly vanilla, faint brine and fruity notes, all vanishing quite quickly.

Out of six Spanish/Latin-type rums I ran past each other that day when I had nothing better to do, this Diplomatico surprised me by scoring, in aggregate right up there with the Santiago de Cuba 25 YO. That was unexpected, almost unprecedented given the disparity in ages. The strength had something to do with it (40% SdC vs 47% Diplo), but overall the Diplo No.1even within its limitationsis simply more intriguing, and more original, while the Santiago was, well, very much in the vein of much we had seen before (though quite well done, let me hasten to add).

In the past, I expressed hope for a more aggressive, rough-n-tough new rum to elevate the Latin rum category. This isn’t it. For all its new-age thinking, even 47% isn’t enough, and neither is the pot still, not entirelybecause although the rum is admittedly different, one gets the impression that the creators are still too in love with their softer Spanish rums to abandon their more soothing profiles entirely, go the whole hog and aim for a growly glute-flexing pot-still brute clocking in at 50% or greater. In trying to be all things to all peoplegain credit for something uniquely new while not pissing off the loyaliststhey steered a middle course which allowed for a decent new rum to emerge….just not one that blew up the stage, the stills and everyone within a radius of fifty yards. And that’s a shame, because that’s what I wanted.

(#653)(83/100)

Jan 032018
 

#475

“A few years ago, these rums [Zacapa and Diplo Res Ex] were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged. No longer.” Thus wrote Wes Burgin over at the Fat Rum Pirate in an excellent July 2017 post suggesting that with social media and education, enthusiasts were becoming more knowledgeable and less apt to accept adulterated rums than ever before.

Yet in spite of that ideal, in spite of the ever-expanding knowledge-base of rums the world over, the Diplo remains enormously popular. It’s unlikely that there’s any rum drinker out therejunkie or notwho didn’t at some point have a fling with this plump Venezuelan señora. Just about all rum writers have done a thing on it. Like the Bacardis, El Dorados and Zacapas, it’s one of those rums one can find just about anywhere, and for the new people coming to rum cold, it remains a staple, if not always a favourite.

That is, of course, due to both its very affordable price, and because of is sweet placidity. You don’t want expensive indie aggro? A light, easy-going drink? Something to relax with? Complex enough for Government work? No thinking required? Here’s your solution. That’s also the reason why it drops off the radar of those people who grow to take their rums seriously (if it doesn’t drive them into transports of righteous rage). Diplomaticomarketed as Botucal in Germany, named after one of the farms from which the cane comes, though it’s exactly the same productnever bothered to punch it up, never worried about cask strength, never deigned to lose the dosing or adulteration, and sells briskly day in and day out. The deep-diving rum chums just shake their heads and head for the exits to buy the latest indie casker, and discussions on Facebook about the matter are more likely than any other to end up in verbal fisticuffs.

Yet consider for a moment the page of this rum in the populist-driven, crowd-sourced “review” site RumRatings. A top-end, well-known, mid-priced unadulterated rum issued at full proof like, say, the Foursquare Criterion has 13 ratings on that site. The Triptych has 11. The 2006 10 Year Old has 4, and the most popular Foursquare rum is the 9 year old 2005 Port Cask Finish with 71. The Diplomatico in contrast has over 1,200, with most rating it between 8 and 9 out of 10 points.

Surely neither longevity, nor rank please-as-many-as-possible populism are solely responsible for such a disparity. There’s got to be more to it than just that, a reason why it regularly appears on people’s answers to the constant question “What to start with?and I’m sorry but not everyone drinks a few hundred rums a year like us writers and festival junkies, and it isn’t enough to simply shrug, sniff condescendingly and say “some people just don’t know good rums.” If it isas I suggesta rum worth revisiting, then such popularity and esteem requires a cold, beady-eyed re-consideration. We have to understand whether it has something more in its trousers, something subtle, that excites that kind of appreciation. It was in an effort to understand what lay behind the popularity of the Diplo that I deliberately sourced a bottle in Berlin in late 2017, and while my controls were a few stronger, purer rums from the Latin side, to my surprise the Diplo didn’t entirely choke even when ranked against them (I shall now pause for the incredulous expressions of indignation to pass), though for sure it never came close to exceeding any and raced to the bottom in fine style.

Part of all this is its relative simplicity compared to fierce and pungent rums now taking centre stage. The nose was a straightforward sweet toblerone, toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, very light and easy and butter-smooth, with what complexity there was being imparted by spices aimed at the sweet siderosemary, cinnamon, nutmegand a little nuttiness, and a hint of light fruit, all of which took real effort to separate out. Hardly the most complex or intriguing smell ever to waft out of a rum bottle, and the vanilla and caramel were really too dominant to provide the sort of excellence the maker trumpets for itself.

Similar issues affect the palate. Smoothyes, warmyes, comfortableundoubtedly. There was a little oak mixing things up here, but mostly the taste was muscovado sugar and caramel, vanilla, light fruits of indeterminate nature, and those same spices from the nose (cinnamon being at the forefront) with nothing particularly new or adventurous leading one into undiscovered territory. Overall, even on the finish, and then judged overall, it had little beyond a pleasant, warm sort of sweet unaggressive nature only marginally redeemed by a light tart fruity note here or there, and the edge imparted by a little oak. Beyond that, it was way too sweet for my palate as it stands right now, and in conjunction with the controls it actually sinks even further because the dampening effect of the additions becomes self evident.

So, that adulteration. It’s been measured at 30-40 g/L of whatever-it-is, which puts it in the same league as The El Dorado 12 and 15 year old rums, Rum Nation Millonario and the Cartavio XO, all of which, back in the day, I enjoyed, and all of which have subsequently slipped in my estimation in the years between then and now, and been relegated to what I refer to as “dessert rums.” But what exactly are they adding to their rum? Back in 2010 when I wrote my original unscored review, the Distilleries Unidas website made tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Onlyrich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…”this comment no longer appears); and Rob Burr remarked on the 2012 Inuakena review that a Venezuelan rum liqueur called Haciendo Saruro is added to the blend, but without corroboration (it was assumed he was speaking from insider knowledge). So I think we can take it as a given that it’s been tarted up, and it’s up to each person who tries this rum to make up their own minds as to what that means to them. Personally, I no longer care much for the Diplomatico and its ilk. It presents no real challenge. It simply isn’t interesting enough and is too sweet and easy. That, however, obscures the key point that people like it precisely for those reasons. It sells well not in spite of these deficiencies (as they are, to me), but because of thembecause the majority of drinkers consider these very same drawbacks as points of distinction, and if you doubt that and the unkillability of sweet, check out the hundreds of comments in response to “Don’t treat people like snobs because they like sweet rums” post on FB in December 2017. Since I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my tastes and my palate matter more, or should take precedence over others, I can simply suggest that people try more rums to get a feel for more profiles before praising it to the high heavens as some kind of ur-rum of the Spanish style.

Let us also concede that a rum like this has its place. On the negative side are all the issues raised above. On the plus side of the ledger, for those who like these things, there is sweetness, smoothness and a stab at complexity. It works fabulously as a standalone sipping drink when concentration and thought is not desired or required. It’s not entirely an over-sugared mess like, oh, the A.H. Riise Navy rum. It makes a decent introduction to neat rums for those raised on over-spiced, over-flavoured rums or who came up through the ranks trying rums like Kraken, Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry or Don Papa. As one of the first steps in the world of rum, this ron remains a tough one to beat, and that’s why it should be on the list of anyone who is assembling the first home bar, and should be considered, for good or ill, one of the Key Rums of the Worldeven if, sooner or later, all true rum fans will inevitably move beyond it.

(74/100)

Nov 122015
 

Cacique Antiguo 1

Supposedly more premium, but not a whole lot better than the 500.

Here’s a poster child of why a rum reviewer has to have the beady-eyed practicality of a jaded streetwalker. Age, style, marketing, pamphlets, labels, word of mouth, all count for nothing, and all is evaluated without recourse to what anyone else says.

After reviewing the €35 Cacique 500 as well as the Veroes Añejo from Venezuela, and checking around to see what else I could buy from that country, I felt it was only fair to pick up something a little higher up on the value chain (but only one), just to see how the Cacique brand developed as it got older: the Antiguo, selling for around €61, is a 12 year old rum aged in French white oak (Bordeaux, it’s been said) and quite an interesting rum, if not particularly ground breaking in any way: it does however present somewhat better than its predecessor.

My bottle was a cardboard-box-enclosed chubby flagon with a metal wrapped cork topping, so evidently the makers took some time to make the appearance match its marketing pedigree. All good there. It poured out a golden brown spirit with a nose that was light and easy, utterly unaggressive, redolent of perfumed bougainvilleas, lavender and honey. It was quite pleasant, except perhaps even smelling it suggested an overabundance of sugary sweetness, a cloying scent of, well, too many flowers. And it was still a little lacking in the intensity I prefer. Still, it settled down very nicely after some minutes (I was tasting some other rums at the time, so sat it down and came back later) – it got warmer and more solidly aromatic after ten minutes or so. Some nuts, tarts with strawberries but more tart than berry, cerealyou know, like those Danish butter cookies with some jam in the center. And even some lemon peel lurking in the background.

The taste was a country mile ahead of the nose. At 40% I more or less expected a tame, soft drink, and I got that, as well as an unusually sharp introduction which fortunately faded away quickly, leaving just warmth. It was still a very light bodied rumI suppose we could call it ‘Spanish style’flowery, delicate to taste. I want to use the word ‘round’ to describe how the texture felt in the mouth, coating all corners equally, but let’s just say it provided the sensation of a thin honey-like liquid, warm and mild, quite tasty, too luscious to be dry. A pinch of salt, a dab of butter, a spoon of cream cheese, mixed in with a cup of sugar water and honey, a squeeze of lime, and a grating of nutmeg and crushed walnuts. It was good, I went back a few times and recharged the glass (in a period spanning several days), just not something to rave over. Admittedly, what I’ve described wasn’t allover time and with a little water, some oak peeked out from under the sweet skirts, vague peaches and molasses, and an odd, woody, even anise note popped in and out of view, here now, gone a second later. The finish was something of a let downmedium short, a little dry, flowers, some salt butter and a shade of vanilla; unexceptional really.

You’re going to buy and enjoy this one for the taste, I think, not how it ends. That midsection is decent and lifts it above what I thought were lacklustre beginnings and endings, and perhaps more attention should be paid to beefing this rum up a little. It is a perfectly serviceable 40% rum, and I’ve read many Venos extolling its virtues online.

But it’s nearly twice the price of the 500, and not twice as good. I look for certain things in a rum, and this didn’t provide all that many of them. I’m unclear for how many years this rum has been in production: fairly recently, I think, though it has been noted that the traditions behind the company go back many decades. For now I can say that what the Cacique Antiguo has shown us is relatively new (and interesting), but that, in fine, doesn’t mean that what they have presented is news.

(#240 / 84/100)


Other notes

  • I’ve gone into the company and production background a little in the 500 essay, so I won’t repeat it here.
  • There’s a lot of the profile of the Santa Teresa 1796 here, or maybe the Diplomaticos. Too bad I didn’t have them around to do a comparison, but it would be instructive to try that one day.
  • It is supposedly made on old copper pot stills, but I must say that the taste doesn’t really support that. I accept itbut with reservations
  • The brand is now owned by Diageo.
Aug 182015
 

D3S_9081

As appealing and soft as a pair of slippers on a cold evening

Nosing this golden brown forty percenter was like revisiting a place in the mind. The soft sweet scents transported me back to the first time I tried the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva on a dark, bitterly cold and wintry evening. This rum, made by the same outfit as the DRE, was quite similar: caramel, toffee, unsweetened chocolate and salted butter on rye bread. There was a slight salty-sweet note here that hinted at soya, or even tequila, but very much in the background, and as it developed, coffee, dried dark fruits and raisins were also elbowing their way to my attentionnot bad at all. I felt warmer just sniffing it, and thought back to the early fun days of Liquorature, where I fought a long hard battle to excommunicate the heresy of the scottish tipple with the rums of the True Faith (ultimately without success, but the fight rages on).

I have to comment on the velvety smoothness of the mouthfeel of the Cacique, which was greatit was like your rice-eating mongrel’s adoring I-love-you-master kiss without the drool, or a hungry cat purring and making nice. It was warm and sweet and unaggressive sort of feel on the palate, smooth and thick, without ever quite stepping off the edge and becoming a sweet vanilla-bomb. Anywaysalt butter again, sour cream, toffee, vanilla, more coffee, very light floral notes, and exactly zero woody or even tobacco notes to be found. Water? Naah, I passedwater might have shredded this thing, it was already too light. You see, the 40% was too weak to really emphasize and bring out the potential of the flavours hidden beneathI really had to stretch just to sense what I described just now. This made it somewhat unadventurous, uncomplicated, and lacking in what us techno-rum-geeks with our love of exactitude, call “oomph.” And this carried over into the fade, which might have been the weakest part of the entire drinking experiencethe brown sugar came out really hard here, with dark, sweet caramel, butter and toffeebarely escaping the dreaded term “cloying” by the slight bitterness of oak and stale coffee grounds.

D3S_9084

The brand first marketed its rums way back in 1959 – it is now owned by Diageoand according to wikipedia, it’s the top selling rum in Venezuela (Diplomatico must be pissed). Three varieties exist, the Añejo, the Cacique and the Antiguo, in ascending order, so this is a considered by the makers to be a middle of the road rum. All the rums in the range are supposedly made from molasses distilled in copper pot stills (I kinda doubt thatthe profile suggests column still product), aged a little, then blended, then aged again, for up to eight years. The 500 is no newcomer to the stage, being first issued in 1992 to commemorate the date Columbus landed in the New World (I hesitate to use the word “discovered”). Now you know as much as I do, and that’s still more than you’ll find on the Diageo website.

Cacique is made by Licoreras Unidas SA in La Mielthese are the same cheerful amigos who make the equally sweet, light and very drinkable Diplomaticos, which may inspire either praise and derision depending on where you stand on the sugar issue. I always kinda liked the Diplomaticos myself, especially in the early yearsand even now that I’m more of a dark, heavy, full-proofed aged-rum aficionado, I still think they’re really good as introductory sipping rums (which is also how I came across them). So I expected the Cacique to more or less hew to the same profile, and it didn’t disappoint in any major way. It shared points of similarity with the light Colombian and Peruvian rums, as well as the other Venezuelans, which argues for a commonality of origin in the diaspora of Cuban-influenced roneros.

Sodid I like it? Yes and no. The smooth and familiar tastes were comforting in their own way, sweet, pleasant, unadventurous, uncomplexthey love you. No attention needed be paid to the Caciqueit wasn’t that kind of rumbut if that’s your thing, add five points to my score. If on the other hand you’re into cask strength beefcakes that menacingly flex their power and dunder and esters in all directions, and show their indifference to your health or your opinion or your tonsils, better take five off.

(#227 / 83/100)


Other notes

  • A cacique is an Arawak (Amerindian) tribal chieftain. I wonder if the irony of a bottle label commemorating both the arrival of Europeans, and the title of a chief of those they nearly exterminated, ever occurred to anyone.
Aug 132015
 

D3S_9085

Frankly, I get more excitement looking for the keys in my pocket.

Like most people, the stuff I’ve tried from Venezuela are the Pamperos, the AJ Vollmer rums of Santa Teresa, and the Diplomaticos from Destileridas Unidas, the latter of which have recently been getting some flak on social media for their over-sugary backbones. Let me add to the Veno lineup with the Veroes, which won medals in 2012 from both the Madrid World Congress of Rum (and again in 2013) and from the XPs at the Miami Rum Renaissance. I think the Cacique 500 is knocking about somewhere, I’ll probably look at that soon as well.

For the history buffs, Veroes is a part of a group of family businesses. With the 2009 acquisition of San Javier Distillery (itself founded in 1974, though 1975 and 1976 are also quoted in various online sources), the inclusion of commercial recreational spirits took off . San Javier Distillery is located in north-central Venezuela and the brand of Veroes seems to have been theirs. Their expansion into the export market gathered steam after a 2009 modernization and while not precisely unknown in North America, their current thrust is primarily into Europe (Spain for the most part).

In a 2015 interview with GotRum Magazine, it was stated that there were no inclusions and additions whatsoever in the Añejo, so we were certainly getting a pure rum here. I should mention, that there are some discrepancies in various online materials regarding its true ageing: Industries Bravo, a distributor in Venezuela, says it’s 4 years old; Mr. Leopoldo Ayala of CEO of Destilería San Javier (DSJ) and Destilería Veroes (DV), Venezuela, said it’s six years old, in 2015; The Madrid International Rum Conference gave it a silver in the “five years old or less” category, and the booth attendant at the Berlin Rum Fest was absolutely sure it was a blend of rums between 2-5 years of age. So go figure. A private message to Veroes themselves gave me the reply that it is a blend of five year old rumsthey may be having some trouble getting the word out.

The 40% rum was golden in colour; nosing provided an initially very sharp and spicy entrance, with opening scents of floor wax, herbal tea, incense and alcohol. In some cases such a melange works, in others not. Here, not so much. I endured the unappealing sharpness at the front end, and it mellowed out into more traditional molasses, vanilla and caramel as time passed. I literally hung around with the rum and talked to my glass for over ten minutes exchanging anecdotes (with the glass) about other rums we had known and met over the years, but complexity (or conversation) did not seem to be its ambition or its forte, and apart from some additional light floral and citrus notes, it had nothing further to offer me. So, not being overly inspired thus far (or by its ability to speak), but knowing that sometimes nose and palate diverge widely in quality, I moved on.

The palate: reasonably smooth, a shade spicy, medium to light bodied; clear and clean and much less heated than those nose. It provided pleasant, unremarkable flavours of vanilla and caramel; quite a bit of woodiness in there; the rum seemed to have no particular unique character of its own that would make it stand out, which can be read as both a compliment and a denunciation, I suppose. Adding water helped a little, just not enough to raise the bar. Certainly coconut, some cherries and a flirt of citrus made themselves known, yet I felt that it needed more, more of everything – heft, intensity, weight, complexity, flavours – to succeed better, even as a cocktail ingredient. The finish confirmed this – it was clean and short, nothing additional to report, without attitude or real complexity.

D3S_9088

 

Maybe I’m being somewhat curt with my rejection of what is a workmanlike rum, reasonably made, if unexciting to behold. Perhaps even unfair, given that it is a young rum still growing out of training wheels and likely not made to be a sipping rum. There are indeed older variants of the brand, six and twelve years old, which I have not tried, and it’s likely that satisfaction is to be gained there, as is usual with older expressions higher up the price and value chain. And after all, it did win those medals in Madrid, got a nod from the XPs, so others appreciate it. This one may be all about opinion, then.

But for me, the Veroes Añejo is a young rum, too light and untamed. A mixing agent, that’s all. This is not a rum I particularly disliked, or, conversely, particularly enjoyed. I was left feeling very little of anything. It absorbed enjoyment, anger, challenge, complexity, artistry, character, the way a black hole absorbswell, everything. Finishing my tasting and writing up my detailed notes, all that remained was a peculiar indifference, hanging around like the Cheshire cat’s grin. Normally I revel in the plunge to dissect a drink’s profile: here, I’d much rather remain on the event horizon and hang around, getting older while waiting for its more aged siblings.

(#226. 77/100)


Other notes:

The rum conforms to the Venezuelan CIVEADenominación de Origen Controlada” (DOC) which marks it as Venezuelan rum adhering to certain standards of aging, production and bottling. I have not yet done any research to see how closely this lines up with the French AOC.

Jun 022012
 

A good, and very pricey ultra-premium solera, the top of the food chain from Santa Teresa A.J. Vollmer in Venezuela. I’m going to go on record as thinking it’s too much price for too little premium.

The $315 Santa Teresa Bicentenario solera rum is made by the privately owned Venezuelan outfit A. J. Vollmer, who also produce the 1796 rum (also a solera, and about which I was unenthused at the timeit may be due for a revisit). It’s a rum I have avoided for over two years in spite of its premium cachet, and because of its price. Every time I’ve tried it (four times to date) it reminds me somewhat of a fellow I once met on my sojourns, who dressed sharply, was educated at an Ivy League university, and was, alas, a bit of a bore. Pricily dressed and well put togetherjust not that interesting.

The bottle I had was labelled #5820 and given that only about a thousand liters a year are made, and since the product (according to the Spanish edition of Wikipedia and other sources) was introduced in 1996 as part of the company’s bicentennial, you could be forgiven for assuming this one was issued around 2002but personally I find that doubtful. KWM only got this batch about two years ago, and I don’t think it’s been mouldering around for eight years prior somewhere else (it remains an unanswered question). Still, the bottle, however startling (some might say ugly), is distinctive, and while I didn’t have the box it should have come in, pictures I’ve seen suggest it is pretty cool.

Santa Teresa Bicentenario is a solera, and therefore has a whole range of column- and pot-still, aged rum components in it — 80 year old product was noted without any indication of the average age, and the whole blend is aged some fifteen years in oak barrels; as the premium product of its line, it had all the hallmarks of care and love given to it: for the price, could it be otherwise? It was, for all that ageing, still somewhat light in the glass, a darkish golden colour with thin legs running down the sides. On the nose it presented itself with a light aroma containing citrus, light and white woods, white flowers, pineapple and a slight hint of dark berries in cream, caressing as a baby’s breath on your cheek.


The overall quality on the palate led on from there: soft and gentle, without a hint of the astringency of a stepmother’s ire. It was put together well enough that separating out individual tastes was as tough as analyzing the Juan Santos 21: about the most I was able to discern was vanilla, faint breezes of brown sugar, and a certain overall creaminess. Perhaps blackberries, and that’s reaching. To me it was just a bit too light and delicate (while nowhere near the effeminate nature of the Doorly’s). And this continued on to the fade, which was long and billowy and lasting, yet so soft that one barely knew it was there at all.

Rating this baby is a bitch. I can tell the work that went into smoothening out the intermarried solera components, and the fifteen years of ageing that blend was well done, because the smoothness is there, as it should be for any premium product. Yet the Bicentenario failed somehow, perhaps in the flavours being so light and commingled that I had little idea what it was I was tasting beyond the obvious. In short, I felt the rum had too little character, balles, cojones, or whatever Venezuelans call badassery.

So the question arises, for what are you paying this kind of money? The storage costs of rums aged to eighty years? Its purported exclusivity and relative rarity? Bragging rights? Probably. But three big ones (I’ve seen it go for about €150 on European webstores) just strikes me as too much. No me gusta, amigo. I’d rather get three El Dorado 21s, or maybe a few bottles of the feisty Pusser’s 15.

Let me put it this way. I raged about the Pyrat’s Cask 23 and wrote a overlong, scathing indictment of the divergence between quality and price. Santa Teresa is not quite in that league, because overall, it has elements to it that many appreciate and froth over, even if I don’t. It’s a decent rum, no question. The Bicentenariopitted against premium choices like the Rum Nation’s Panama 21 (one third the price), St. Nicholas Abbey 10 year old and English Harbour 1981 25 year oldcarries on its founders’ traditions of taste, clarity and lightness, good blend quality and decent value. Everything more or less works, everything fits. What’s not to like?

Please take a left turn here, because the real issue is, what’s to love? The rums we care about display characteristics which say something about ourselves that we wish trumpeted to the masses. I’m fun and unconventional (Koloa Gold). I’m big on Bay Street (Appleton 50 year old or maybe the G&M Jamaican Longpond 1941). Ask me about my retirement (Pusser’s, El Dorado 15). I am staid and prefer to mix and just get hammeredand like meself just so (Screech). I’m a bit nutso (Rum Nation Jamaican 25)…and so on. What does the Bicentenario say? The trust fund is ticking over? I use a discount brokerage house? I have a summer abode, a nice catamaran and drive a Volvo? By that standard, I have to stick with my assessment: good rum, overly ambitious, lacking attitude, a shade boringand, alas, overpriced.

(#112. 84/100)


Other Notes

  • My thanks go to the Scotchguy from Kensington Wine Market, who gave me his last heel for nothing, so that I could write this review and take the photographs, without incurring the ire of my parsimonious better half.
  • Here is a good write up on the company’s history, too detailed for me to abridge.

 

May 252011
 

First Published 25 May 2011 on Liquorature

A puzzlingly schizophrenic rum – I can’t quite make up my mind about how good it is: an undistinguished bottle containing a so-so tasting rum with both a lovely nose and a finish to savour. I’m going to go back to this one, for sure, just to nail my opinion down more precisely.

The Diplomatico Añejo I had on the night of the last Liquorature club was one of those weird rums that I couldn’t quite categorize, because it had both good elements I liked and others by which I wasn’t entirely enthralled. However, I had quite a bit of it, so who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

Presented to Liquorature by the same gent who introduced us to the 15 year old Diplomatico Gran Reserva, the Añejo is distilled by the same Venezuelan concern that makes that versionthis was merely a younger iteration, having no age statement on the bottle. It also had the rather grandiose statement that it was the Rare Rum of the Caribbean on it, and as a member of the Caribbean diaspora myself, I can tell you that there’s a misnomer if I ever heard one, since not only are there no shortages of rums (rare or otherwise) in the area, but Venezuela, while having a fairly extensive Caribbean beachfront, is not considered culturally a part of De Islands, being more akin to Latin America. I mean, when was the last time you ever heard of a Venezuelan soca competition, a Veno steel pan band, or their local cricket team?

Bottle appearance? Utterly average, nothing fancysolidly seated plastic cap, though, which I liked (at least it wasn’t some cheap tinfoil screw-on). The Hippie stayed silent on this one (remember his childish exuberance with the postage stamp design of the Gran Reserva?) but did partake of a nip or two.

Nose was soft, a little fruity – peaches and soft fleshy types, with a bananas hint emerging reluctantly after a bit; and a vanilla scent which I liked. Not much in the way of a sting to your snoot, so you’d probably like this one on that level alone. No real complexity there, though.

I said the bottle appearance was utterly average. The taste, to me, was medium everything. Like Bacardi, it excelled at nothing while being average at everything. It’s almost like the Corolla or Civic of rums. I mean, there was almost nothing out of the ordinary for which to award points or deduct them – the body was medium; the taste was sweet, but not too much so, with neutral smoothness, a taste that lingered on, not too short, not too long, and which had a slightly thicker character that (I swear) tasted of unsweetened chocolate; and there was an odd briny note, a tang of the sea, that I found odd but in no ways unpleasant.

If I was indifferent to the appearance and taste, let me wax somewhat more ebullient on the fade, which was excellent. Soft; smooth, elegant, long lasting. A taste of grapes a little ripe but not as cloying as the Legendario’s muscatel reek, wafted up and stayed in the mind.

On occasion, I’ve been given a hard time by mon pere for not always expressing an unequivocal opinion (he really must love Ebert’s thumb, honestly), and rereading the above I see I’ve done it again. So here goes: I think this is a surprisingly good rum, with elements that make me believe the blender wasn’t too sure what he wanted. I’d mix it or sip it (the latter perhaps with a cube of ice), but what it really makes me want to do is go back to the Gran Reserva: I didn’t have a rating system when I reviewed it back then, but the good and bad of this lower-tiered product from Venezuela makes me want to return and give the other one a more thorough evaluation.

(#078. 79/100)

 

May 102010
 

 

First posted 10th May 2010 on Liquorature.

I remember being somewhat unenthused with this rum from Venezuela when Scott trotted it out last year. Venezuelan rums seem to be a bit drier, with less body and not quite as sweet as those made in the Caribbean proper (I note that several online reviews have precisely the opposite opinion), and to my mind, that makes them best for mixers, not sippers. Still, I had never made good notes on this baby since I tried it for the first time, so, when both Keenan and Scott coincidentally came up with the same bottle two weeks in a row, I had the opportunity to dip my schnozz and see if my deteriorating memories of the first sip were on target.

Some history first: the Santa Teresa distillery is located in Venezuela (north part of South America for the geographically challenged) about an hour east of the capital, Caracas, on land given by the King of Spain to a favoured count inyou guessed it – 1796. Political vagaries being the way they are in South American banana republics, the estate ended up in the hands of a Gustavo Vollmer Rivas, who began making rum from sugar produced on nearby estatesowned by other Vollmersesin the late 1800s. The Santa Teresa 1796 was produced in 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the estate land grant, and, like the Ron Matusalem reviewed elsewhere on this site, is produced by the solera method.

In the solera process, a succession of barrels is filled with rum over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in the solera is tapped for part of its content (say, half), which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles. In the Santa Teresa, there are four levels of ageing. And the final solera is topped up withMadrespirit, which is a young blend deriving from both columnar and pot stills. Seems a bit complicated to me, but sherry makers have been doing it for centuries in Spain, so why not for rum? The downside is, of course, that there’s no way of saying how old it is since it is such a blend of older and younger rums (Appleton does this as well with some of their stock, and I can’t say I was impressed with their offering).

The resultant is a dark brown, medium-bodied honey-gold rum with a backbone of an older, dry blend. It’s difficult to describe the exact feeling I had when I tasted it, but it’s like a very pure, medium strong unsweetened hot tea carving its way down your throat. Assertive, yet not unpleasant. And not very sweet, as I’ve saidit’s almost like a good sherry. The nose is lovely: honey, vanilla, some faint hints of fruit (banana and cherries?), caramel and toffee. The taste and texture on the palate is not as smooth as I would like, and the finish is medium long, redolent of light oak and caramel. A pleasant nose, a good sip, a nice finish, a decent taste. A solid rum, medium tier.

I didn’t care for it neat, but on ice it’s a very competent sipperwithout going so far as to make me really want to go nuts over it. In other words, not an English Harbour by any stretch of the imagination. I would use it as a mixer without hesitation, but I’m not sure if that isn’t just a bit of sacrilege there: after all, the whole point of making something this special is to savour the richness, isn’t it? I guess it flew over my head.

It may be too early to say, but thus far, based on this and the Ron Matusalem, I have to say I’m less than impressed with the solera method of blending. I’m perfectly willing to accept that there must be superior examples of the solera blender’s art out there, and will search the remaining 1450+ varieties of rum until I find one, but I fear that either such and example will be found after I curl up my toes, or be out of the range of my rather slender purse.

(#018)(Unscored)


Update

Mar 092010
 

 

First posted 9th March 2010 on Liquorature.

For some reason, the Last Hippie was absolutely enthralled by the label design* of this Venezuelan import when Pat trotted it out for the February 2010 get-together, rhapsodically comparing it to a postage stamp, nearly swooning over the originality of it all. It was the first time I ever saw a label nearly bring a Peathead over to the Light and have a shot of the good stuff, but it fell just short of the mark, alas and perhaps embarrassed by his untoward display of emotion, he retreated to the other Scottish brews for the rest of the night.

Diplomatica Exclusiva Reserva is a premium aged rumindeed, the top of the linemade by the Venezuelan firm of Destilerias Unidaswhich is now privately held, and a major supplier of raw spirit stock to Seagram. The research is unclear: either one of the original owners, or Seagram, built a factory in the small town of la Miel, close to the Columbian border, in the 1950s, was for many years the only factor in northern SA and the Caribbean to make both cane and grain based spirits: even now, this one factory makes whiskeys, vodkas, liqueurs, ginand Smirnoff Ice. (Looking at the location on the map, one wonders why it had to be so remoteI mean, this town is really far away from anything).

Interestingly, the blend is made from a combination of heavy pot-still rum (80%) and column still rum (20%). The rums are separately aged in white-oak barrels and then blended together to produce the final product which is a rich and textured dark rum of admirable complexity and taste for the modest price. The website also makes tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Onlyrich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…”) which statement I include for completeness, and to contrast it against the majority of rum producers who couldn’t be bothered (to their detriment, I think).

The nearly opaque bottle effectively disguises a copper-brown coloured rum that is medium-heavy bodied and of middle density, and with a distinctive taste. The caramel and vanilla notes on the nose mellow gently into a very nice taste of burnt sugar, sweet molasses (not much), perhaps cream soda andbutterscotch. And yet, it’s not overly sweet either. Very slightly ‘oily’, leading to a long, semi-sweet finish that everyone who tried liked. Definitely top tier stuff, and fully deserving to be had without embellishment of any kind. Which is not to say it can’t be used as a mixer but it doesn’t need to be.

And quite frankly, I don’t think it should be

(#017)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • The label is a portrait of Mr. Don Juancho Nieto Melendez de Hacienda Botucal, a famous Venezuelan historical personage (and of impeccably ancient Iberian lineage) who acted as an ambassador for Venezuelan spirits in the 19th century, and noted as a collector of top-shelf liquors of all kinds. If my translation of the spanish web page is right, it was he who encouraged the making of spirits from the area around la Miel, because of the naturally filtered water, and the high quality of sugar cane grown there.
  • In 2018, after a re-tasting and re-evaluation, I called the Diplo Res Ex one of the Key Rums of the World. That review probably has better tasting notes than the brief ones here.