Mar 042021
 

If two rums from the same company were made the exact same way on the same still, there are just a few things that would explain any profile variations. There’s the still settings themselves, because one rum might have different “cuts” than the other, or from higher or lower plate; there’s the proof point, stronger or weaker, at which either is bottled; and then there’s the barrel strategy, which is to say, the barrel itself and the duration of the rum’s slumber therein.

Last week I looked at a 12 year old Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum from Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua, which came off their column still in some undisclosed year and was then aged in ex-bourbon barrels in Central America for more than a decade before being diluted down to a milquetoast 40%.  The 335 bottles of this Nicaraguan rum released by the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society were also 12 years old but allowed to flex the glutes at a solid 55% ABV, was in so many ways a better rum that one can only wonder at the difference. After all, isn’t tropical ageing supposed to be better? Stuff made at the distillery of origin from cane to cork should be benefiting from the voodoo of location, yet clearly that didn’t happen here.

I mean, consider the profile from start to finish.  This SMWS rum was deep and forceful from the get go.  Caramel and toffee melded well with a woody component.  Dark fruits and raisins waft across the nose and combined with some apple cider, threatens to overwhelm the smell…but the toffee, caramel, oak, chocolate and tart yoghurt end up carrying the day.  It’s a bit sweet, with some bitterness after a while, and an emergent strain of coconut and marzipan, with the whole thing getting both darker and sweeter the longer it’s nosed

Palate?  Not bad at all. It’s woody, more so than the Flor de Caña product (and this is something  about their rums many have commented on before); caramel and bitter chocolate wrestle for dominance with dark Russian peasant bread. “It’s kind of like a thin Blairmont and without the complexity,” remarked my friend Marco, who was tasting it unenthusiastically with me (he was not a fan). I disagree there, because when you leave the rum alone for a while (okay fine, I forgot about it and checked it again an hour later, so sue me) it actually provides some nice notes of coffee, brown sugar, apples and vanilla – these temper the slight oaky bitterness we sensed, and while overall I think it is rather simple and the finish just repeats the chorus of notes from above, it’s a pretty powerful statement for the company…and what it could be doing.

I have no way of knowing in which year the Flor 12 was made – company-made blends like that stay stable for long periods and are tweaked to make them that way – and so a comparison between a continentally aged rum from a single barrel selected by a whisky maker, and a blended, easier product continuously being made by the distillery, lacks true comparability or real meaning; and will without question taste differently. And that’s even without going into the oft-repeated doubts as to whether even back then, their rums truly aged for X years.

And yet, and yet….perhaps it should not taste that different. The shared DNA should be clear, there should be points of similarity that would permit a reasoned comparison to be made, the family tree to snap into focus. Here, that’s hard. If pressed, I’d say I felt this one was less like the 12 and more akin to the superlative blue-bottled 15 year old “21” I’ve always liked — but that one was also quite different from other Flor products (it was an anniversary bottling, never repeated).

So taking all that into account, what made the SMWS rum from Nicaragua so relatively good? Maybe they really were made at different times and in different ways and came off the still already more like second cousins than brothers. But assume for a minute that they were the same up to that point:  given the similarity in age, similarity in barrels and assumed sameness off the still, the only thing left to consider is the wide divergence of the proof point, and the ageing location. The 40% TA variant is faint, lacklustre and ultimately boring – it in no way provides the complexity and solidity of tastes the CA 55% does.  

I’m not trying to make a case for continental over tropical (aside from pointing out how pointless the discussion is from a taste perspective) – but I will go on record for suggesting that maybe one reason Flor de Cana can’t seem to increase its market share or get a bigger footprint on the connoisseur’s mindset, is because they have not had the guts to stake out the full proof market for their products, or even issue a limited edition series of single cask releases. And what that means is that other, smaller independents are stealing the thunder and reaping the rewards that by right should have been theirs. All because they couldn’t be bothered to move away from the traditional philosophy of their blenders.

(#806)(85/100)


Other notes’

  • Simon over at the Rum Shop Boy liked the rum, and made some interesting comments in his conclusions: he suggested that its quality disproves the oft-cited myth that lighter column still spirits require dosage to be truly palatable; and also, that a higher proof is a completely acceptable way of delivering more flavour punch to the rum.
Mar 012021
 

Nearly ten years ago, I was rather indifferent to Flor de Cana’s 12 year old rum.  It wasn’t as cool as the older expressions like the 18 for sipping, and was outdone by the 7 year old for a more assertive a cocktail. The 12 YO made a decent drink…except insofar as I thought it was somewhat unfinished mid range rum which didn’t seem to be either flesh or fowl. 

A decade has now passed, and the brand has lost both brownie points and market lustre with consumers. The 2015 Chronic Kidney Disease matter has died down, but the peculiar and more lasting damage of their age statements continues. In fine, the age statement number on the label was phased out after around 2014 (when Wes Burgin first noted it in his middling-scored review) and now just says “7” or “12” or 18” without further clarification.  Of course, even then they were touting that silly “slow aged” moniker, which I regarded then and now with the same sort of impatience.  What on earth do they think this means, honestly? That the world spins more slowly for this thing?

What this all does mean, and what just about every reviewer on reddit or other fora is at pains to note (when they bother reviewing anything from Flor at all), is that the big number on the label is completely useless, if not outright deceptive. It tells you nothing of consequence, not the age, or whether it is a blend of X rums (unlikely) or whether it’s a link to the past when it was 12 years old.

With that in mind, let’s see what we have: an older 12 year old 40% rum, whose current “12” blend is no longer now what this once was; column still distilled and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. A more standard rum could not be imagined (unless maybe it’s the Appleton 12 YO or Doorly’s 12 YO).  The only reasons to try it are curiosity (always), to see if it could be a candidate for the Key Rums list (no), and to see if anything has changed from my original review (yes, but not for the better).  

I confess it did not impress now either.  The nose started out medicinal and a bit sharp.  It’s predominant characteristic was dark prunes and viscous molasses, honey, overripe cherries, a tang of salt and olives. The ageing showed up via a trace of vanilla and tannins, whose aromas stayed mostly in the background, but overall, not a particularly expressive or impressive nose.

The rum tasted mostly of caramel, treacle and molasses.  There was a trace of nuttiness and honey, a few dark and ripe fruits, nothing particularly sharp or tart.  Black olives, some brown sugar. It felt like something of a soft blanket, lacking the sharper notes of a citrus element that would have make a stronger statement and balanced things off more nicely. With some strain and patience, a touch of orange peel and unsweetened chocolate was discernible at the tail end leading into the short, dry finish, just insufficient to make a difference to the overall profile.  Not something that made it any more memorable, however. 

For my money, the 12 YO remains something of a middling work in progress, once leading to the better 18 Year Old (now the “18”) of the supposedly even more upscale “Luxury” expressions (this one is referred to as an “Ultra Premium” in its current iteration). I don’t think it merits anything near those kinds of descriptions – based on tastes alone, it encourages words like “capable,” “decent” and “mid range” but “Premium”?  No chance.

To me, it comes down to that that big number 12 on the label: without any qualifiers or explanations, it is a sign of not just shoddy marketing and the peacock-like display of a double-digit (if not an outright attempt to mislead buyers), but of a lack of faith in their own product. I have no particular issues with Flor de Cana as a whole – I admire what they’ve managed to accomplish to recover their reputation – but this rum is just not worthy, at this stage, of being included in the pantheon.  It’s too simple, too ambiguous, and it excites mostly a kind of indifference. Ten years ago it was the sort of rum I’d drink when I just wanted to get hammered, and in that sense, it’s exactly the same now

(#805)(78/100)


Other notes

  • In a time of true-aged cask-strength full-proofs as part of several primary producers’ ranges, I wonder why they insist on keeping this old work horse and not rebrand it as a true 12 year old, and/or goose the proof a bit?  For that matter, why not issue a complete range of high-octane full proofs?  To stick with the advertising of yesteryear at a time when the world has already changed so much strikes me as odd, to say the least.  Perhaps, like DDL, they regard that kind of thing as a loss-leading indulgence of the independent bottlers, not something they really care about themselves.
  • Both TWE and MoM keep on naming their entries for the rum as if it were a true-aged rum, when the label clearly says nothing of the kind.
May 042020
 

There was a very good reason why I took this bottle off a shelf and tried it, even when surrounded by many other rums from equally proud old houses, better made, stronger, of greater quality, produced to more exacting standards, with less kerfuffling oin the label. And that was because I was evaluating Flor de Caña’s entry-to-mid-level rum to see whether it could or should be named to the Key Rums series. The price was attractive, and I retained good memories of an epic bender with my Newfie squaddie Keenan, where we polished off a bottle in labba time on his deck while discoursing on method, critiquing pure reason and waxing poetical on ethical conundrums.

At the time, I had long been a fan of the Flor rums, and they were among my favourite of the first 100 reviews written here, including the original 7 year old I had cut my baby rum teeth on. But back in 2010, they were not the same rums I was drinking now, nor was the same person doing the drinking. Ten years ago, for example, they really did say “7 años” on the label, and not just the deceptive looking numeral 7 without any elaboration at all. The completely meaningless, clueless, pointless and useless — but evocative — “slow aged” and “handcrafted” monikers was on both bottles, but now they had gone a step further and trademarked the former, just to make sure, I guess, that somebody else didn’t come up with the time dilation effects of being around a glass of the stuff. These days, I just pass that kind of stuff with some impatience and get right into the glass.

The nose started decently enough – warm, fruity, welcoming.  It was a bit too sharp for easy sniffing, and the burn of cheap acetone and furniture polish denigrated the experience some. Still, what came after was pleasant – blancmange, bananas, cigar smoke, raisins and some molasses, a bit of tinned peaches, nothing too out of left field, or too aggressive. For a column still product pushed out at 40% ABV, it was all right, and didn’t blow the roof off, or fade into tasteless bland listlessness that sometimes characterizes such bottom shelf products.

The palate really needed work.  There was quite a bit more than the nose, mind — bitter chocolate, almonds, orange peel, stale cigar smoke (in an unventilated bar the day after a late close – ever been in one of those?), black tea, some brown sugar and brine, sweet soya, molasses, and the further bitterness of wet charcoal and ashes.  The problem was, the whole palate was unbalanced and weak.  I don’t say that entirely because of the strength, though that didn’t help, but because there everything was so dialled down and faint that it took me the best part of an hour to dissect it…and worse, the discordant pieces clashed and banged against each other without harmony, and instead of leading to the quiet glide of a smooth finish, it shoved brine and caramel and vanilla roughly down the gullet and pronounced itself satisfied it had given what had been paid for.

So, after trying it and feeling a distinct sense of being let down, I had to concede that the passage of ten years had changed me and my profile preferences, as well as, probably, the company.

It’s possible that the now-famous 2015 Vice magazine hit piece (about Flor’s purported responsibility for Chronic Kidney Disease which was killing workers at an alarming rate, which was long on inconvenient truths and short on contradictory evidence or Big Picture, but that nevertheless caused a partial bartender’s boycott of their rums in North America) took Flor by surprise.  And in their scrambling to retain market share and recover from the mountain of bad press, they started to cut corners to save money.  Or maybe they just misread the tea leaves, completely ignored the head of steam that pure single rums were just starting to make and went cheap and mass market and standard strength, instead of to the niche top end where real profits lie.

Whatever the case for the devolution of the rum from its progenitor, it cannot be considered as being an undiscovered steal. It’s not the same rum I had back then. Is it younger?  No way to tell — it’s a blend now, and some of the trust the company had once possessed has now evaporated, so who’s to tell? The important take-away is that drinking it didn’t make the hours fly faster, just slower, enough to get the tasting over and done with, and with less enjoyment.  A decent rum this was. A good mixing agent, yes, surely.  A key rum, though? Not really – it is, in point of fact, quite a bit less.

(#723)(76/100)


Other notes

My low-to-middling opinion here is something of a minority.  Several others quite liked it, so if you want some balance to my snark, check these guys out:

Apr 132020
 

Of all the Central American rums I’ve tried, Nicaraguan rums from the Flor de Caña facilities probably are the least like that light Spanish style so popularized by Bacardi. They inhabit a tasting style niche that isn’t quite Latin (or Cuban, if you will), but something that blends the light column still taste with something a bit deeper and richer. It makes for a nice amalgam, though it must be said that their own rums don’t always showcase that effectively, and sometimes it takes an indie to make the point with a single barrel expression. Not as a rule, not consistently, but occasionally, like here, yes.

Black Adder had done some intriguing work with their 12 YO back in 2015, and the Compagnie des Indes has released another Nicaraguan single barrel rum I quite liked, the 2004-2016 11 YO which illustrated the depth of such rums nicely. That one was fruit-forward with background notes of tobacco and spices, and possessed a certain plush softness I wasn’t expecting (previously my experience had been with Flor de Caña’s main line of commercial blended rums). So I was curious how a 17 year old rum from the Compagnie ranked against those two, and whether that additional five or six years of ageing (continental) made a discernible difference.

It did, I think. It almost seemed like there was some pot still action going on behind the scenes, upon a first sniff – rubber, salt, esters and acetone, a little paint thinner. Also a nice olive and briny note, set off by sweeter aromas of tinned peaches or apricots in syrup. Some nuts and cereals backed up the chorus, and the real takeaway was the impressive manner in which the balance among these competing aspects was maintained, with no single scent dominating the experience. Even a vague salty rottenness of of overripe cashew fruit (the ones with the external seeds), added rather than detracted from the overall complexity and it was quite a bit better than the 2004 11 YO I brought out of mothballs to do the comparison.

On the palate the rum started off with something of a different vibe: the estery fruitiness I had smelled changed to a delightful sprightly young bubble gum, mint and menthol combo which opened the show in fine style.  The rum felt thinner than the nose had suggested, and sharper, but that was likely just a function of the high ABV (64.9%) and again, it felt like it had more richness and depth than either the Blackadder or the 11 YO I was using as comparators.  With water, additional notes crept out: honey, dates, nougat and apricots (minus the tin or the syrup this time). There were some vague sensations of oak tannins, aromatic tobacco, caramel, vanilla and a little bit of molasses backing things up, leading to a very long, dry finish of fruits, nuts, honey and coconut shavings.

My personal opinion is that some water might be useful to aid in taming the beast and bringing out subtler flavours that might otherwise be cowed (and there are a lot of those). This is one of those cases where perhaps toning the rum down to an ABV more in the mid-fifties might have paid dividends: nevertheless, I can’t complain with what Florent has achieved here, which is to coax a sterling profile out of a difficult and complex high proofed spirit. And although the Danes were the only ones who got this rum at this strength back in the day, Nicaraguan rums at full proof remain a staple of the Compagnie’s releases, all of which can trace their descent back to the quality of what was envisioned five years ago, in this deserving and near unnoticed release.

(#718)(85.5/100)


Other notes

  • 240 bottle outturn, from Barrel #NCR-30
Jan 282019
 

Speaking in general terms, my personal drift away from Latin- or South American rums over the last few years derives from the feeling that they’re a little too laid back, and lack pizzazz.  They’re not bad, just placid and easy going and gentle, and when you add to that the disclosure issues, you can perhaps understand why I’ve moved on to more interesting profiles.

Far too many producers from the region do too much unadventurous blending (Canalero), don’t actually have a true solera in play (Dictador), have a thing for light column still products which may or may not be tarted up (Panama Red), and are resting on the laurels of old houses and family recipes (Maya) whose provenance can hardly be established beyond a shadow of doubt (Mombacho or Hechicera).  Moreover, there is too often a puzzling lack of easily-available background regarding such rums (more than just marketing materials) which is out of step with the times.

Still, I have to be careful to not paint with too wide a brush – there are many good rums from the region and I’m not displeased with all of them. In a curious turnabout, my favourites are not always released by from or by Latin American companies — at least, not directly — but by independents who take the original distillate from a broker and then release it as is.  This avoids some of the pitfalls of indeterminate blending, additives, dilution and source, because you can pretty much count on a small indie outfit to tell you everything they themselves know about what they stuffed into their bottle.

That’s not to say that in this case the Compagnie is a poster child for such disclosure – the distillery on this one is noted as being “Secret”, for example. But I suspect that Florent was a bit tongue in cheek here, since any reasonably knowledgeable anorak can surmise that the 11 YO rum being reviewed here is a Flor de Cana distillate, column still, and aged in Europe.

Compared to the Mombacho 1989 that was being tried alongside it (and about which I still know too little), the nose was much more interesting – perhaps this was because the Compagnie didn’t mess around with a soft 43%, but went full bore at 69.1% for their favoured clients, the Danes (this rum is for the Danish market). Yet for all the strength, it presented as almost delicate — light, fruity (pears, guavas, watermelon., papaya), with a nice citrus tang running through it. When it opened up some more, I also smelled apples, pears, honey, cherries in syrup, and a pleasant deeper scent of aromatic tobacco, oak and smoke, and a touch of vanilla at the back end.

The palate was also very robust (to say the least). It was sharp, but not raw – some of the rougher edges had been toned down somewhat – and gave off rich tastes of honey, stewed apples, more sweet tobacco and smoke, all of it dripping with vanilla. Those light fruits evident on the nose were somewhat overpowered by the strength, yet one could still pick out some cherries and peaches and apples, leading into a very long and highly enjoyable finish with closing notes of gherkins, brine, cereals, vanilla, and a last flirt of light sweet fruits.

Perhaps it was a mistake to try that supposed 19 YO Mombacho together with this independent offering from France.  On the face of it they’re similar, both from Nicaragua and both aged a fair bit — but it’s in the details (and the sampling) that the differences snap more clearly into focus, and show how the independents deserve, and are given, quite a bit more trust than some low-key company which is long on hyperbole and short on actual facts.

As noted above, neither company says from which distillery its rums hail, though of course I’m sure they’re Flor de Cana products, both of them.  We don’t know where Mombacho ages its barrels; CDI can safely be assumed to be Europe. The CDI is stronger, is more intense and simply tastes better, versus the much softer and easier (therefore relatively unchallenging) Mombacho, even if it lacks the latter’s finish in armagnac casks. Beyond that, we get rather more from the Compagnie – barrel number, date of distillation and bottling, true age, plus a little extra – the faith, built up over many years of limited bottlings, that we’re getting what they tell us we are, and the confidence that it’s true. That alone allowed me to relax and enjoy the rum much more than might otherwise have been the case.

(#593)(84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Controls this time around were the aforementioned Mombacho, the Black Adder 12YO, and another Nicaraguan from CDI, aged for seventeen years.  I dipped in and out of the sample cabinet for the comparators mentioned in the first paragraph — not to re-evaluate them, just to get a sense of their profiles as opposed to this one.
  • Distilled December 2004, bottled April 2016, 242 bottle-outturn
  • We should not read too much into the “Secret” appellation for the rum’s source.  Sometimes, companies have a clause in their bulk rum sales contracts that forbids a third party re-bottler (i.e., an independent) from mentioning the distillery of origin.
Aug 312017
 

#385

Perhaps it would be better to start with the straightforward tasting, lest my snark bend your mind were I to lead in with the commentary instead of finishing with it. The Mombacho 1989 Central American rum does, admittedly, boast and flourish some impressive chops on the label: 19 year old rum (1989-2008), finishing for the final two years in armagnac casks, reasonable strength of 43% (I said ‘reasonable’, not ‘outstanding’). Looking at other bottles of their range it seems within the bounds of reason to assume it’s from Nicaragua, though the ‘Central American’ noted on the label might suggest a blending with other rums from the region.

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruit – nothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well.  Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tart – I assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influence – with an ashy background to the whole thing.

Tastewise, also nothing to sneeze at, with a rich red wine taking the lead, plus prunes, apricots, stewed apples and burnt sugar. In its own way, it felt a little over-rich so maybe something was added?  I tried it in conjunction with the Compagnie des Indes 17 year old and the Blackadder Raw Cask 12 year old (both from Nicaragua) and it is in the comparison that I got the impression that either it was doctored a mite, or the finishing was simply too dominant.  With water additional flavours of honey, vanilla, cereal and tobacco could be discerned, plus licorice and some oakiness, and overall it had a nice rounded feel to it.  Even the finish had that balanced quality to it, though quite short – cherries, peaches, prunes, anise, gone too quickly.  

It was said to be the best rum in the world in 2008, but I’ll tell you frankly, when I read that I just smiled, shrugged and moved on – it was good, but not that good.  Not bottom shelf by any means…and not top shelf either. Let’s put it somewhere in the middle.

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

So what to make of a rum that is purported to be nineteen years old, yet whose provenance is shrouded in mystery?  Mombacho is a rum brand which has a website and a Facebook page (among others) that are masterpieces of uninformative marketing.  About all you get from these sources (and others) is the following:

  • They issue aged bourbon-barrel-aged expressions with fancy finishes
  • This rum is named after a volcano in Nicaragua
  • It’s distributed in Europe by an Italian company named F&G SRL out of Torino.
  • There used to be a moonshine distillery on the slopes of that volcano (the whole area is now a nature preserve) selling a rum called Mombachito
  • The rums in the brand’s lineup are variously aged from 8 to 21 years.
  • Some of the rums from Mombacho are called “Nicaraguan” and others “Central American”.

My personal assumptions are as follows: I believe this is a Flor de Cana based rum. The taste profile, and the absence of any concrete contact info of the producing distillery, if there is one, points to this (some online webpages speak to a distillery, never named, never located). I think it has been bought aged as is from FdC (they laid in a lot of stock in the 1980s as a hedge against hyperinflation and political problems, so the assumption is reasonable), and the rebottler/blender, whoever they are, aged it a further while in the armagnac casks for the finish.  Some blending of barrels is highly likely, because any limited outturn would have the number of issued bottles proudly displayed as well.

Everything else I found in my research is glitzy pictures and self-promoting blah of zero interest to the diligent, curious rumhound. Even on the large Facebook rum clubs where an occasional mention can be found, about all you’re walking away with is that some people got one of the rums from the brand, but without details or facts of any kind on the brand itself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an informational black hole

This enormous lack of background material does not make me a happy camper.  I can’t trust a company which has no information behind it, therefore I can’t trust the provenance, so I can’t trust the age, it throws suspicions onto the entire label,  and with all these doubts, it inevitably leads to suspicions that the price I paid (€120) was excessive for what was on show.  I honestly don’t care if the makers are marketing tyros or business neophytes or freshie rum dilettantes – more should have been provided, even back in 2008.

This is where honesty in labelling becomes so very important.  If this was a thirty-dollar rum, I would not worry overmuch about it, but for three figures it begs some questions.  And when none of this is readily available, it devalues every other statement made in the marketing literature, or the bottle label itself.  If anything positive emerges from this tirade, it is that it shows what is demanded in 2017 for any rum on the market nowadays. I doubt a new entrant to the field could get away with what Mombacho did nearly ten years ago, and the 28 year old Panamanian Arome may be the proof.

So yes, it’s a decent rum, and no, I wouldn’t buy it again.  Not because it doesn’t have some quality, but because I rarely spend that kind of money more than once on a no-name brand with little but air behind it.

Other notes

I sent out a note to many of my rum swilling friends….none of them could tell me anything about the company.  Mombacho’s FB page has so far declined to respond to my message asking for further info, an the mombacho.eu website was similarly unhelpful.  But, if I do get some feedback, I’ll update this post.

Jan 252017
 

Unique in its own way, but not precisely exceptional.

#338

It’s been quite some time since I’ve tried a Nicaraguan rum. That’s partly because I was unenthusiastic (even indifferent) to the more recent Flor de Caña range of rums where the age statement, through a miraculous stroke of legerdemain, suddenly disappeared; and having gone through a goodly part of their lineup once, I had other interests (and rums) with which to occupy my reviewing time.  Still, just as the islanders have their variations taken to new extremes by independent bottlers, so does Nicaragua, and when I got the chance to acquire not only this rum but two aged full proof versions from the Compagnie, I jumped back into the fray.  Maybe it was time to see how the country’s hooch had developed since the last time.

Blackadder is a Scottish indie, known more for whiskies than rums – like G&M and others from that neck of the woods (if less well known than the other bigger guns out there), rum is a sideline for them, an obiter dictum, if you will. They indulge themselves — as with whiskies — in single cask bottlings without additives or filtration of any kind, which they have trademarked as a “Raw Cask” in order to demonstrate how even sediment from the barrel gets transferred to the bottle so as to impart the maximum amount of barrel flavour.  Yeah, well, ok. This particular bottling came through the still in August 2002 and was bottled in April 2015, so a smidgen over 12 years old…and issued at a massive 62.6%, and that’s damned appealing, if only to get us past the milquetoast of the standard strength Flors that are much better known.

Nicaraguan rums are very similar to what you might get if you casually flung together a Guyanese and Jamaican without worrying too much about the provenance or age of either, but over and beyond that they have a certain profile of their own, however much they are usually dampened down.  They lack the distinctiveness of either of those aforementioned rums types, for example, both of which you’d likely know blind….not necessarily the case with the Nic I’m looking at here).

Anyway, what of the rum?   Well, it certainly came hurtling out of the bottle in a nose of raw aggression, so I let it rest for a while to avoid serious injury.  Once it calmed down, the initial scents were of vanilla and faint aromatic tobacco, quite well balanced for that strength, and remarkable for a lack of burn usually attendant from such a high proofage.  The vanilla gave way to honey and marshmallows, some flowers, toffee, sugar water and faint nutmeg, yet overall I came away expecting more…there was a sort of one-note directness here that I didn’t care for, and the vanilla held the high ground too assertively (and for too long) to allow for the full development of subtler flavours I was expecting.

Palate wise, this odd simplicity continued.  It was quite creamy and assertive under the heated taste, of course (“chewy” is not a word I use often, but is perfectly applicable here).  What fruit flavours there continued to keep their distance – one could sense them without actually coming to grips with what they were.  With water, brine, olives, caramel and ice cream were evident, with vanilla again taking something of a front seat (but less than the nose), and the honey was retained, providing that bed of softness upon which lighter florals were laid. On the whole, it was pleasant enough, just somewhat…dour,  guess.  Hardbitten. A bit rough.  It never really developed into something exceptional, and even the finish – sharper, longer and lighter than a Mombacho, or the CDI full proofs – did little to enhance that, simply presenting honey, light florals for a while, before dissipating into a fade that in no way broke new ground.

Overall, there’s something stern and dark and uncompromising about the rum, and for one of the few times drinking cask strength products, I believe that here the thing should have been brought down to a lesser proof (that’s just my opinion, though). With some less starkly elemental rums from Central America there is a softness to them, something redolent of the tropics, a sort of warm voluptuousness which this one does not have. The imagery is more of dark, hard, storm swept cliffs drenched in cold seaspray, than lush tropical vegetation.  I may be wrong but I get the impression it was aged in Europe, not Nicaragua, and that gives it a kind of roughness and power which not everyone will appreciate – it’s made, one thinks, by and for whisky aficionados.  That’s not enough to make it a bad rum by any stretch, but it does imply that one should be careful to understand one’s preferences, before going out to buy it simply because it’s a cask strength rum from a country where easy going profiles are more the norm.  That it’s pure and unmessed with and a true expression of its country is not in question – whether that all works and comes together harmoniously for a drinker, however, is another matter altogether.  In this case it might be all about what other spirits one likes.

(84/100)

Other notes:

Distillery unknown though I suspect it’s a Flor cask.  It has points of similarity to the 18 year old I tried some years ago, and to some extent the “21” 15 year old from that company.

Blackadder has released other rums (from St Lucia and FourSquare among others), the review for which have been generally positive.

 

Sep 072015
 
Samaroli Nicaragua 1995

Photo (c) LionsWhisky.com

This is a rum that reaffirms my faith in the Nicaraguan rums.  Nothing need be added to it, nothing can be taken away. There’s a purity and minimalism of construction here that is almost zen.

The sheer range  of flavours emanating from the glass that held the Samaroli Nicaragua 1995 tickled my nose and astonished my mind.  Few light coloured rums I’ve tried in the last six years were ever this rich right out of the gate.  For a person whose background in Nicaraguan rum trends more to the Flor de Caña range (of which the 21 remains my favourite), this was not only intriguing, but an outright pleasure.

Samaroli is one of the first modern independent bottlers who’s still around (though Veronelli may be older), having opened its doors in 1968.  As with many other Italian outfits, they initially specialized in whiskies, but in our subculture, it’s their rum bottlings for which they are more highly esteemed. There’s a certain cachet to Samaroli rums, perhaps because there were among the first to begin issuing limited edition craft bottlings for rum which were more than just by-the-way-we-think-you-might-like-this efforts done by scotch makers.  Companies like Secret Treasure, Velier, Rum Nation, Compagnie des Indies are its intellectual heirs.  These newer companies seem to grab reviewers’ attention, headlines and market share much more than the old guy on the block, and  yet there is Samaroli, still quietly putting out the hits.  Maybe it’s Samaroli’s absence from the Facebook or festival circuit. Maybe it’s their comparative rarity – this ten year old 45% rum, for example, only has 378 bottles in existence.  Maybe it’s their overall quality – I have not heard a bad thing said about the decades-long rum lines. Still, it ain’t exactly cheap at €160, and that will make a lot of people pause.

All of this crossed my mind as I nosed a more-than-generous sample sent to me by that estimable gentleman from France, Cyril of DuRhum, so a big hat tip to the man.

Usually a light gold rum almost presumes a certain light sparkly diffidence…not here.  Smooth thick and slightly heated aromas rose from the glass, firmly providing the initial dusting of citrus and ripe oranges, cinnamon and pepper, around which danced scintillating notes of overripe green grapes.  It had a slightly nautical tang to it, of seaspray and brine, black olives…really well put together, not too heated to be unpleasant, not too faint to be unnoticeable.  It did take a while to open up, but that wait was worth it – additional scents of caramel and sugar notes sulkily emerged at the tail end, as if doing me a favour.  Never mind, still liked it.

Ahh, the taste of this thing….just lovely.  It was medium to full bodied in texture, and the various tastes were distinct and separable and came across as sweetly as a series of precise piano notes dropping gently into a pool of silence…something by Mendellsohn, I think, or one of Chopin’s quiet nocturnes.  There was absolutely no bombast or fire here, just one pure thing after another…green grapes to begin with, fleshy apricots, followed by a frisson of plums and the zest of tangerines.  A little water brought out toblerone, honey and nuts…and oddly, very little brown sugar or caramel.  On the other hand, well controlled oak, aromatic tobacco and vanilla rounded things out quite nicely, so no complaints there.  The exit was medium long, warm but not sharp, presenting the final tastes of peaches and citrus oil and leather, and you’d better believe I wasted no time in having another sample.

The Nicaragua 1995 is an completely delicious, professionally made rum.  Mr. Samaroli has always felt that as flavours increase with age the texture and body fall off, and there’s a sweet spot where age, texture and strength intersect.  In this case, ten year ageing and 45% may be just about right for providing a remarkable tasting experience without overreaching.  There are some who have no particular liking for Nicaraguan rums (as represented by Flor de Caña, which has gotten some flak in recent years due to its age-statement  and labeling philosophy) – to such naysayers, I’d simply say that for depth of flavour and overall profile, for an enjoyable spirit that succeeds on practically every level and can be used for whatever you want, you wouldn’t shortchange yourself by trying this rum if it ever crosses your path.

(#231. 88/100)


Other notes

  • No additions or inclusions or chill-filtration
  • Distilled in Nicaragua in 1995, bottled 2005 in Scotland, where it was also aged.
Apr 112013
 

D7K_1222

A very good double-aged Nicaraguan rum, from France.  If this is what a random selection of Plantation rums is like, then I have high hopes for all the others.

Finally, I have managed to start acquiring some of the Plantation rums (long regarded by me as a major hole in the reviews of rum “series”), and if the Law of Mediocrity holds true, then this is a set of bottlings that would remedy all my bitching about the inconsistencies of the Renegade line. If it is true that the characteristic of the parts is a function of the whole, then we’ll be in for a treat as we work our way through them.

The Plantation line of rums is made by Cognac Ferrand of France, based on stocks bought from around the Caribbean and Central and South America, and some of their uniqueness rests in the fact that they are finished in cognac casks prior to final bottling (so they can be regarded as double aged). This gives the rums in the line a certain heft and complexity that many comment on quite favourably, to say nothing of the line stepping away from 40% as a matter of habit – this one from Nicaragua was bottled at a pleasant 42%. Note also that Plantation indulges the practice of dosing – the addition of small amounts of sugar or caramel to create the overall assembly.

D7K_1227

The bottle itself conformed to the Plantation standard of presentational ethics: a straw-netting enclosed barroom bottle, with the label identifying the year the rum was laid down (2001 in this case), and a map of the source country. I guess they saved the really fancy presentation for stuff like the Barbados 20th Anniversary edition, which was nothing near to this kind of standard (it was better), yet I have no fault to find here, since aside from the lack of an age statement, it provided most of what I needed.

It’s been a while since I tasted the Flor de Cana series of rums (my stocks are long since drained and not renewed), but I remembered the solidity of those, the depth of flavour, whether simple or complex, and they remained among my favourites until supplanted by other Panamanian and Guyanese expressions. This rum brought back all my memories of why I liked Nicaraguan products so much

The nose was deep and rich, redolent of vanilla, oak (not excessive, very well balanced), caramel, citrus (orange peel, even lime zest) and peaches (minus the cream). There were herbal notes flitting around the initial delectable aromas, and I reveled in the lemon grass scents which reminded me somewhat of crushed lime leaves in spicy Thai cuisine. There was no offensive astringency or bite here, just solid, complex notes I spent an inordinate amount of time admiring.

The palate was lovely. 42% ABV sent a pleasantly heated, medium bodied spirit to announce its prescence with a smoothly powerful fanfare. Honey and caramel flavours led the charge, with subtler tastes of pineapple, a ripe-but-firm mango and vanilla rounding things out. The Nicaragua 2001 was not overly sweet (so what dosing they did do was judiciously restrained, at least), slightly dry without being either cloyingly sugary, or acerbically briny. The rum was all well-balanced flavour and profile, speaking well for more expensive and older rums up the chain of the Plantation line. And I had little fault to find with the finish, which was longish, slightly dry and gave me some oak and vanilla that was not exceptional, just well put together

 D7K_1228

What’s not to admire about a rum like this? Much like the Dictador 20 written about some weeks back, it displayed a solid mastery of rum-making fundamentals. It’s probably the finishing in cognac casks that gave it that extra note of complexity and balance I so enjoyed here, with the body being somewhat enhanced by the sugar (estimated at 14 g/L). In part, I see the production of these limited edition bottlings by European makers as an act of homage for the traditions of the old rum makers and their lost arts. W.G. Sebald, whose works often concerned the loss of memory, once wrote about journeys made through the half-abandoned remainders of the past, through signs that men had once been here and are now forgotten. When you try the Nicaragua 2001, you see what rum can be, once was, and maybe what it will aspire to in years to come.

(#154. 85.5/100)


Other notes

  • The Law of Mediocrity isn’t quite what it sounds like: it basically takes the position that if one takes a random sample from a set and that sample is good, then it suggests that others in the set will also be.
  • There is no literature I can find that says precisely how old the rum is. Of course, since it was casked in 2001, it has to be less than fifteen years old. One German site stated it was six years old, and the Fat Rum Pirate (the only other review out there) says he guesses 8-10, so I dunno…..
  • There is some confusion in the online literature as to whether this is pot still or column still distillate. However, the Cognac-Ferrand site notes it as coming from a columnar still.
  • People have differeing opinions on the matter of additional sugar, an imbroglio which became a major issue in late 2014 onwards.  Some like it, some don’t, some are indifferent. The 14g/L number is taken from The Fat Rum Pirate’s list.

 

 

 

 

Jul 272012
 

A deep and relatively dark medium bodied rum that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be.  Decent mixing agent, a shade too uncouth to sip…springing for the seven year old sibling might be a better idea.

I must have squirrelled the Flor de Caña 5 year old so far behind all the other bottles of hooch in the casa that it simply drifted out of sight and memory. Not too difficult when you consider my house is packed with piles of books, DVDs, computer gear, cameras and photo equipment, children’s toys (and children), camping gear, extra stuff for visitors and furniture I’ve given up trying to persuade Mrs. Caner to get rid of. We once couldn’t find my son in the basement for a full two hours after he fell asleep under some bedding materials. So no surprise I lost track of the blocky, round-shouldered bottle of Nicaraguan five until I was neatening the rum shelf last week. On the other hand, maybe I’m just sinking into geriatric decrepitude.

Too bad this dark 40% product of Central America wasn’t really worth waiting for and discovering to an accompanying choir of heavenly bliss. Maybe it was my bottle, but after cracking the cap, it did give off whiffs of too-sharp oakiness and a faint rubbery scent that I didn’t care for, and, unlike the Rum Nations where this settled into a rich, deep melange, here it just assaulted my nose with about as much forgiveness as a third world dictator. At best I can tell you it had a certain richness to it, and gradually as it settled down, caramel, molasses and dried raisins allowed themselves to be made known, with a whiff of citrus rounding things out.

If I had to comment briefly on the arrival, “chewy” – which I may never have understood properly before now – would be the best single adjective. No other word described it as well unless it was “heavy” – a word a lot of West Indians would snicker over, given its relationship to “t’ick” when describing buxom attributes of the distaff side. Red grapes, sharp oak and burnt sugar, some tangerine coiling behind it all (but not much). Oddly dry. Middling sweetness, leathery notes, all wrapped up into a rather raw package that scraped its way morosely across the palate. I cannot tell you that the overall balance worked for me – that it was cut above the four year old white is unquestionable, I just didn’t think it was ready yet…couple more years in the white oak barrel would make it both better and a seven year old (and I liked that one a lot). Not entirely coincidentally, that’s The Little Caner’s age too.

Finish is heated, medium long and dry with some faint cinnamon notes, not too bad for an entry level rum that is the first in several further steps of ageing. I think it was a little too hot for me to pretend it can be a sipping rum, and recommend it as a cocktail ingredient, while remarking that its overall depth would present an intriguing challenge for the bartender looking for flavours which it enhances. Something lighter, I would suspect. The rum itself is aged in white oak barrels that once held bourbon and here I should make a remark on the “slow aged” process…a bit of a meaningless term, really.  What is of merit is that the column-still distillate is aged without artificial flavourings or additives, and in traditional barrel houses built without air conditioning…that may account for the uniqueness of what can be termed the “Flor taste.”

I said this rum wasn’t worth discovering…perhaps that was being too harsh. I think it may just be too young (and not enough trouble was taken marrying the barrels’ output together) – the seven is for sure a better buy. Then again, it may be that I put together my tasting notes in conjunction with three other rums, two of which were simply better, and so I am being snooty. It’s a strange thick-legged sprite of a rumlet: diminutive, aggressive, determined, loud, eager, winsome, but—given its nose, stiff palate, dearth of a decent finish and an oddly discombobulated overall balance—also a trifle uncoordinated. It’s like Sheldon Cooper on a Starbucks bender, or Doc Emmett Brown having a real drink. On its own I’d use the Flor de Caña five year old Black Label as a mixer, sure, but on balance, I must simply say this rum, for all its familial cachet up the ladder, doesn’t quite have its poop in a group.

(#115. 76/100)


 

May 232011
 

Original Review 23 May 2011 on Liquorature

Outclassed by its older siblings as a sipper and given better dollar value by its younger ones for mixing, Flor de Caña 12yr old’s singular characteristic may be its quickness (insert vulgar and raunchy joke here). This isn’t to say you won’t enjoy yourself, or that you’ll have a bad experience – just not a lingering one.

Clint of Liquorature very kindly  allowed me to pilfer his bottle of the Flor 12 in order to write about it, once the March 2011 session wound to a close.  We’ve looked at the 5715 and 18 yr old variations here already, and it was time to do one of the last of the aged versions before I seriously began tackling the younger ones.

Flor 12 shares the same brown coloured bottle as the 18 year old, short and blocky, as squat and heavy bottomed as a Bourda fishwife on a Saturday morning. A no-nonsense sort of bottle with the brand etched into the glass, very workmanlike.  Note the plastic cap – the seal it makes is tight fitting and yet easy to remove. Initially I preferred cork, but some experience taught me plastic was probably best, and hang the aesthetics.

The legs of this medium bodied dark-brown rum were strong and slow, reminding me of the gams of an over-the-hill barkeep (of indeterminate gender) in a riverside shack on the Puruni River where I had once panned for gold, whose half-hearted clutches I evaded with nimble footwork.  However, though the dark brown colour of the rum  promised a rich scent, I was unmoved with the nose, which managed to be both soft and sharply assertive – over and above what one would expect – simultaneously.  I smelled burnt sugar, nuts, perhaps a hint of honey, but that was all.  It struck me as being somewhat of a blunt instrument instead of something subtler – it didn’t last at all, but flashed into and out of my nose so fast that whatever quieter or more elegant scents might have existed, were not noticed.

The taste was of burnt sugar and caramel, again nuts and honey (and perhaps baking spices like cinnamon), and some kind of tangy cheese.  For a rum containing such pleasant flavours, the lack of oiliness which would permit a more lasting taste profile, was a disappointment – the experience is just over too damned fast. Just as I was getting a handle on it, it disappeared. And for my money the oaky back end spoiled what could have been an excellent taste there.  The rum trended to a slightly heavier body approaching the el Dorados, and maybe that extra sugar or caramel ingredient was an attempt to mute the sharpness of the oak tannins which were still in evidence here, but with their own effects on overall balance and quality.

And as for the finish, well, it was a good one – smooth and clear, with a few bright notes of caramel and brown sugar coming through – yet over too quickly, gone too fast. I was left with relatively little taste and fumes to savour after a second or so. Made me want to have another shot, real quick, just to try it again and ensure I knew what I was actually experiencing.  And indeed, that’s exactly what I did.

Flor 12 is, like the El Dorado 12 or the El Dorado 15, something of a bridge.  In these variations we see the cheaper, lower-tier rums being left behind and the painstaking care that characterizes the older offerings of the makers coming into prominence, but without actually being complete yet. Flor de Caña 12 year old is an essay in the craft, a wannabe that aspires to the quality in the 18 yr old and the 21 Centenario (which we now know to be a 15 yr old), and both benefits and suffers from that fact.  Is it good?  Yes it is.  It won the 2010 Gold Medal and Best in Class Award at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, and has been praised up one hill and down the other (a good reason why you should just take this view here as an informed opinion of my own).

Those of adventurous spirit and love of fine rums won’t have much to quarrel over – except perhaps that peculiar quickness. Quickness of dissipation, of taste, of finish, and, for this writer, quickness of desire to get to the quality of its older brothers – which are promised here, but not (to me) entirely delivered.

(#077. 80/100)


Other notes

2021 Update: Possibly, even in 2011 when I wrote this review, the 12 Year Old was already just a blend of components “up to” 12 years old instead of a meaningful “true age”. At the time, the company still retained a fair degree of trust and it was not often commented on.  By 2013 the questions grew louder and by 2015 the party was well and truly over. In the eyes of deep rum fans, I don’t think Flor ever really recovered its sterling reputation after the hammerblows of the faux age statement and the scandal of the kidney disease affecting its workers.

Apr 252011
 

First posted 25 April 2011 on Liquorature

Astringent as a Brit’s sense of humour, shot and sharp and crushing as Mrs. Jagan’s put-downs in primary school when I was being a smartass, this is not a rum to have by itself; but in a mix of any kind, it rises to the occasion and emerges as one of those quiet and unsung stars that one’s bar simply should not be without. It’s that different, and that good at what it is.

Right out of the bottle, Flor de Caña’s white rum bats you with one malicious spirituous paw (is that a real word?). It has a nose and a taste that is so out of line with just about everything else Flor makes, and is so different from the rest of the lineup I’ve tasted, that I’m left wondering whether this isn’t the equivalent of the red haired child.

Even though I always had a soft spot for white rums, I never really paid them much mind…they always seemed to lack some of that yo-ho-ho cachet that gold or brown or black rums had, some of that air of disrepute and feloniousness. There was no cutlass in there, no screaming willies of a drunk bastard out to get you. You never got the impression that such rums, which have been filtered up to wazoo to remove any trace of colour, were, well…real. Like the underproofs, they always seemed more for cocktails, or for the mild and meek. I mean, if it wasn’t an overproof 150 or some such brawny white lightning, it obviously couldn’t be taken seriously. Right?

Flor de Caña out of Nicaragua makes ten rums as of this writing, three of which are white, and all of these are four years old. I was presented with this bottle by the apple of my eye, my daughter, on my birthday, together with the appropriate insults regarding my advanced age, incipient case of the dodders, deleterious aspersions on my antecedents and my utter lack of taste (this is what passes for love between us – I mean, heaven forbid we actually share a compliment).

Let’s get to it, then.

Now, as noted, white rums are ferociously filtered and this usually gives them both a smoothness and a bland taste somewhat at odds with what we might expect a rum to both look like and taste like. In point of fact, there are times when you would be forgiven for thinking you’re tasting a vodka. So, partly because of this youth and filtration, I wouldn’t recommend the Flor 4 as a nosing rum, and indeed, I don’t believe this is what Flor wanted either (some more delicately long-nosed tasters may disagree). The Extra Dry pulled no punches, and after the spirit sting faded, there wasn’t much there beyond some fruit (which I couldn’t identify) a quick flirt of molasses that disappeared faster than a strumpet’s smile after business is over; and for me, that was it.  Others have noted a buttery and vanilla scent – me, I missed it, since I was busy trying to ignore the phenols and medicinals that also pervaded the rather sharp nose.

But it was dry.  Extremely so. In fact that driness allowed strong spiciness and burn to overwhelm what seemed, underneath, to be something quite intriguing and a shade more complex than I had expected. Consider: sure there was the healthy alcohol of a standard 40% rum; and yes, after some time, there was light vanilla and oak (lots of oak), and again, that bit of molasses.  It was just so faint, though.  The medium heavy body of the colourless white, even the slight sweetness (not much, but some) was bludgeoned into insensibility by the fists of the spirit: and that, oddly enough made it less a rum, to me, than a cognac or – as noted above – a vodka. And the fade was astringent, acerbic and not for the faint of heart. A good burn, a shade sharp again, and also somewhat raw.  Others may like it neat – I know some reviewers did – but I wasn’t one of them. So I’ll say it again: Flor de Caña 4 year old Extra Dry is not for sipping.

On balance, would I mix this? Hell yes. The tastes are delicate and so not much addition is needed, and a one to one mix with the old standby is probably just right. The filtration process did smoothen things out somewhat, and ageing is ageing, so it was not something as raw as, say, Coruba, or even an Old Sam’s.

Neither, I must say, was it unpleasant to drink with a little something added. It was simply different. If I wanted a competent base for cocktails of all kinds (and my wife makes some mean ones, as several intoxicated guests of ours over the years have discovered when they suddenly couldn’t find their knee joints), or a simple mixer for the standard stand-by the rum and coke, this non-sipper would not be my last choice. Red haired stepchild or not, blandness and phenols or sharp finish or not, it’s simply too well made, even for its youth, to ignore.

(#075)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • My opinions on unfiltered and sometimes unaged white rums went through some evolution, so much so that nearly seven years later, I was impressed enough and happy enough with the variety out there, to make a list of 21 Great Whites and follow that up a couple of years later with 21 More Great Whites.
Jan 182011
 

First posted 18 January 2011 on Liquorature.

A better than average presentation, for a rum that supercedes its age 

The Flor de Caña 21 is a good example of ensuring you know what you’re buying before you fork out your hard earned pieces of eight.  I’m being redundant here (most other online reviews make mention of this), but I note the matter because all other Caña products have their age statement clearly and unambiguously front and center: 4 yr old, 5 yr old, 7 yr old, 12 yr old, 18 yr old.  You can hardly avoid that: it’s on the front of the bottle and if you miss it, you aren’t paying attention in your hurry to peruse the price information.  But the veinte uno doesn’t habla in this manner. The 21 doesn’t refer to the age, but the century for which it was bottled, and it’s actually a fifteen year old, which is noted in small gold lettering on the back. And this may in fact be reflected in the price: I paid ~$70 for it, and one would expect a 21 year old to be closer to, if not exceeding, a hundred.

Presentation was first rate – while I would have preferred a box or a tin for something this aged, I could live with the blue bag and the matching opaque blue bottle, since I’m a sucker for originality (and recall, the brilliant 18 year old doesn’t even have the bag, let alone a box). The rum itself pours into the glass in a tawny amber colour; it presents slow fat legs, for which I’m beginning to run out of amusing metaphors to describe: let’s liken it on this occasion to a Bourda fishwife’s plump gams.

The nose in this thing is, quite frankly, outstanding.  It’s deceptive as well, because it starts out as a caramel-molasses scent, very smooth and hardly stinging your schnozz at all…and then morphs into a clear, clean floral and herbal scent that is delicate and assertive at the same time (I know no other way to express this lovely nose – most dark rums are either medicinal or overwhelm with burnt sugar and molasses, but not this one).  In fact, I liked this so much that I spent an inordinate amount of time dipping my beak into it just to revel in its pleasures.

The body is medium (the bottle says full-bodied, but I’m not entirely convinced of that), just enough sweet mixed with just enough flavour and alcohol.  The profile on the tongue is something else again: rich, caramel and sugar undertones, bound together by molasses and – once more – that unique hint of clean flowers, just faint enough to draw attention and balance out the muskier sugars, yet not so much as to overwhelm.  The balance really is quite good. The 21 exits in a smooth and gentlemanly fashion, with barely a sting, and yet here’s a bit of a letdown: the finish is shorter than one might expect. An excellent nose and taste and coating on the tongue and throat, you understand: just short, as if the gentleman was visiting a house of ill repute, and now, having completed his business, wishes only to put on his hat and depart the premises with all due dispatch.

Flor de Caña (flower of the cane) rum is made in Nicaragua, and is one of the most consistently good dark rums I’ve ever had, at any age (I simply adored the 18 year old). The Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua was founded in 1937, though workers of the San Antonio sugar refinery had been distilling their own festive hooch for local celebrations for maybe half a century before that. The success of the distilling company led to expansion and to exporting rums to other countries in Central and South America by the late 1950s. Following on the heels of the trend established by DDL in 1992, they began to issue aged premium rums (though stocks were surely laid down before that…after all, when was the 18 year old I had in 2009 put into a barrel?). And since 2000, these rums have been recipients of numerous awards for excellence. No argument from me on that score.

It’s an overworked and abused cliche that 20% of Americans can’t find their own country on a map, but this is surely not an issue with anyone who knows his rums.  Within the subculture, the great spirits of the small nations in the Caribbean and South America stand out as beacons of light and pride for their makers…and none of us who ever taste one of these great drinks is any doubt where Venezuela, Guatemala, Guyana or Nicaragua is.  We know the nations, we know the geography and we know the history.  We know of and care about, above all, the premium products of these small states, and what makes them special.  In increasingly disconnected, fragmented world, rums like the Flor de Caña 21 are almost like national symbols in and of themselves: they have the power to bring us together and educate us beyond their fleeting, ephemeral tastes.

(#062. 85/100).

Jul 212010
 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#030)(Unscored)