Aug 132020
 

There’s a peculiar light yellow lustre to the Santiago de Cuba rum somewhat euphemistically called the Carta Blanca (“White Card”), which is a result, one must assume, of deliberately incomplete filtration. The rum is aged three years in oak casks, so some colour is inevitable, but in anonymous white barroom mixers, that’s usually eliminated by the charcoal used: so whatever colour remains can’t be an accident. It’s likely, in this case, that the makers figured since it was issued at a trembly-kneed sort of please-don’t-hurt-me sub-proof strength, it might be better to leave something behind in case people forgot it was supposed to be a rum and not a vodka.

That worked, I supposeup to a point. The problem is that a 38% proof point simply does not permit sufficient serious aromas to be discerned easilyyou really got to work at it (which I argue is hardly the point for a rum like this one).

When nosing it, I certainly got the light sort of profile it promised: some negligible white fruits, in bed with a thinly sharp and quite herbal background; it smelled a bit grassy, almost agricole-like, surprising for a Spanish-style ron from Cuba. And when I took my time with it and let it stand for a bit, I sensed almonds, crushed walnuts, coconut shavings, papaya, sweet watermelon and even a touch of brine. (Note: adding water did absolutely nothing for the experience beyond diluting it to the point of uselessness).

As for the taste when sipped, “uninspiring” might be the kindest word to apply. It’s so light as to be nonexistent, and just seemed sotimid. Watery and weak, shivering on the palate with a sort of tremulous nervousness, flitting here and there as if ready to flee at a moment’s notice, barely brushing the taste buds before anxiously darting back out of reach and out of range. I suppose, if you pay attention, you can detect some interesting notes: a sort of minerally base, a touch of mint. Citruslike lemon grasscardamom and cumin, and even some ginnip and sour cream. It’s just too faint and insipid to enthuse, and closes the show off with a final touch of citrus peel and lemon meringue pie, a bit of very delicate florals and maybe a bit of pear juice. Beyond that, not much going on. One could fall asleep over it with no issues, and miss nothing.

Obviously such tasting notes as I describe here are worlds removed from the forceful aspects of all those brutal falling-anvil fullproofs many fellow boozehounds clearly enjoy more. When faced with this kind of rum my default position as a reviewer is to try and be tolerant, and ask who it was made for, what would such people say about it, can redemption be found in others’ tastes? After all, I have been told on many occasions that other parts of the world prefer other rumssofter, lighter, weaker, subtler, easiermade for mixes, not chuggers or shot glasses.

Completely agree, but I suspect that no-one other than a bartender or a cocktail guru would do much with the Carta Blanca. It has all the personality of a sheet of paper, and would disappear in a mix, leaving no trace of itself behind, drowned out by anything stronger than water. It does the world of rum no favours, trumpets no country and no profile worthy of merit, and after a sip or a gulp can be forgotten about as easily as remembering which cocktail it was just mixed in. In short, it has a vapid existence unmolested by the inconvenience of character.

(#752)(72/100)

Jul 142019
 

It’s been some time since a current production Cuban rum not made by a third party crossed my path. Among those was the Santiago de Cuba 12 YO, which, at the time, I enjoyed a lot, and made me anxious to see how older versions from the Cuba Rum Corporation’s stable would work out. So when the 25 YO became available, you’d better believe I snapped it up, and ran it past a bunch of other Latin rums: a Don Q, the Diplomatico “Distillery Collection” No. 1 and No. 2 rums, a Zafra 21 and just because I could, a Kirk & Sweeney 18 YO.

The Cuba Rum Corporation is the state owned organization located in the southern town of Santiago de Cuba, and is the oldest factory in the country, being established in 1862 by the Bacardi family who were expropriated after the Cuban Revolution in 1960. The CRC kept up the tradition of making light column-still Cuban rum and nowadays make the Ron Caney, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba lines, the last of which consists of an underproof blanca and sub-5YO anejo, and 40% 12 YO, 20 YO and this 25 YO. The 25 YO is their halo product, introduced in 2005 in honour of the 490th anniversary of the city of Santiago de Cuba’s founding and is lavish bottle and box presentation underscores the point (if the price doesn’t already do that).

Could a rum tropically aged for that long be anything but a success? Certainly the comments on the crowd-sourced Rum Ratings site (all thirteen of them, ten of which rated it 9 or 10 points out of ten) suggest that it is nothing short of spectacular.

The nose was certainly goodit smelled richly of leather, mint, creme brulee, caramel, raisins, cherries, and vanilla. The aromas were soft, yet with something of an edge to them as well, a bit of oak and tar, some citrus peel and lemon juice (just a little), plus a whiff of charcoal and smoke that was not displeasing. Even at 40% (and I wish it was more) it was enormously satisfying, if unavoidably light. Good thing I tried it early in the sessionhad it come after a bunch of cask strength hooligans, I might have passed it by with indifference and without further comment.

The challenge came as it was tasted, because this is where standard strength 40% ABV usually falls flat and betrays itself as it disappears into a wispy nothingness, but no, somehow the 25 year old got up and kept running, in spite of that light profile. The mouthfeel was silky, quite smooth and easy, tasting of cinnamon, aromatic tobacco, a bit of coffee. Then came citrus, nuts, some very faint fruitsraisins again, ripe red grapes, kiwi fruits, sapodilla, yellow mangoesthat was impressive, sure, it’s just that one had to reach and strain and really pay attention to tease out those noteswhich may be defeating the purpose of a leisurely dram sipped as the sun goes down somewhere tropical. Unsurprisingly the finish failed (for me at any rateyour mileage may, of course, vary): it puffed some leather and light fruits and cherries, added a hint of cocoa and vanilla, and then it was over.

The Santiago de Cuba brand was supposedly Castro’s favourite, which may be why the Isla del Tesoro presentation quality rum retails for a cool £475 on the Whisky Exchange and this one retails for around £300 or so. Personally I find it a rum that needs strengthening. The tastes and smells are greatthe nose, as noted, was really quite outstandingthe balance nicely handled, with sweet and tart and acidity and muskiness in a delicate harmony, and that they did it without any adulteration goes without saying. It would, six years ago, have scored as good or better than the 12 year old (86 points, to save you looking).

But these days I can’t quite endorse it as enthusiastically as before even if it is a quarter of a century old, and so must give it the score I dobut with the usual caveat: if you love Cubans and prefer softer, lighter, standard proofed rums, then add five points to my score to see where it should rank for you. Even if you don’t, rest assured that this is one of the better Cuban rums out there, tasty, languorous, complex, well-balanced….and too light. It’s undoneand only in the eyes of this one reviewerby being made for the palates of yesteryear, instead of beefing itself up (even incrementally) to something more for those who, like me, prefer something more forceful and distinct.

(#641)(82/100)


Other notes

Pierre-Olivier Coté’s informative 2015 review on Quebec Rum noted the outturn as 8,000 botles. One wonders whether this is a one-off, or an annual release level.

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #032 | 0432

Over and above the skimpy details of the company provided in the notes written for the Carta Oro (Rumaniacs-031) there’s nothing new here, except to note that this rum is definitely better, and I enjoyed it a lot more. So let’s dive right in and be briefer than usual

NoseVery Spanish in its lightness. Cornflakes, cereal, lemon peel, vanilla and salted butter come to the fore. It’s a little spicy and tart for 40%, something like a lemon meringue pie, very nice actually, if a little gentle. Opens up to smoke and leather after some time.

PalateI’ve moved away somewhat from the Latin style, but no fault to be found here. Orange marmalade, a little caramel and coffee grounds and white chocolate, and with water there is a whiff of licorice, toffee, more vanilla, leavened by sharper fruits such as ginnips, red currants, red guavasthat kind of thing. Really a very nice rum.

FinishShort and delicious, quite light and crisp, with more tart fruity notes and some smoke and very faint licorice and orange peel.

ThoughtsI have no idea how aged this rum isI suspect five to ten years. Whatever the case, it’s a most enjoyable dram. Probably out of all our price ranges at this point, if a bottle could even be found whose provenance one can trust. With the opening of the American market to Cuban products, we can expect to see a lot of rums many have never tried before from companies that will surge to the fore but which until now remain relatively obscure. I really look forward to that.

(84/100)

Mar 272017
 

Rumaniacs Review #031 | 0431

This is a Cuban rum from a company that still exists in Santiago de Cuba and now called Ron Caney: the holding company was (and may still be) called Combinado de Bebidas de Santiago de Cuba and was supposedly formed around 1862however, it is also noted to be operating out of a former Bacardi factory, so my take is that it’s using expropriated facilities, which is confirmed by Tom Gjelten’s book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba. This rum is from the late 1960s or early 1970s, is also known asGold,” and for sure is no longer in production, though modern and aged variants do of course exist (the Ultimate Rum Guide has a list for the curious). The export version is the Havana Club marque from Cuba.

Picture here taken from ebay and I’m unclear if it’s the same one as what I was tasting. The actual bottle pic for the sample in my possession is very low res, but shown below.

ColourGold

Strength – 40%

NoseSoft citronella notes, flowers, relatively uncomplex, but laid back, light and quite clean. Some cream pie and vanilla.

PalateSharp, clean and light, a little aggressive in a way the nose didn’t mention. Started off with a faint medicine-y taste which is far from unpleasant. Some salted caramel and cream cheese. Salty brine and olives, citrus peel, balsamic vinegar and cheese-stuffed peppers. Maybe I got a dud sample that oxidized too much, ’cause it sure didn’t taste like a normal Cuban. Stillnot entirely a write-off.

FinishShort, sharp, mostly lemon peel and some candied oranges.

ThoughtsProbably a very young rum. If one can find a bottle, it’s probably worth more for historical value than to actually drink it

(78/100)