Ron Millonario 10th Anniversary “Cincuenta” – Review

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Apr 302020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#722)(79/100)

Oct 232012
 

Like Bernadette from “The Big Bang Theory” – sweet, buxom, lovely…but with a slight edge as well. What a lovely, lovely rum. 

Is this the best solera rum currently in production?

Now there’s a statement guaranteed to raise the blood-pressure of lovers of Opthimus, Cubaney, Dictador, Ron Zacapa, Vizcaya, Cartavio, Santa Teresa or others, and draw hordes of disapproving comments from people who will inevitably and disparagingly ask “Well, how many have you tried, dude?” Making a statement like that is akin to throwing a defenseless Christian virgin into the Roman lion pit, isn’t it?

Soleras are a peculiar subset of rums. Dave Broom gives them scant mention in his book “Rum”, rather casually making them a part of the Spanish, Latin style of rums that are lighter and sweeter than more aggressive leather-and-tobacco Caribbean rums. Yet they are distinct in their own way and make as any rum deriving from cane juice, cane syrup, molasses or to which spices have been added…and they’re getting better all the time. Soleras are based on the Spanish sherry system, whereby every year a fraction of one barrel’s aged product is moved to another one down the line in strict sequence. The mathematics works out that after many years, assuming no further ageing of the final product, you’re getting a majority of seven to eight year old components, together with fractions of rums much older than that (the Santa Teresa Bicentenario claims there are rums as old as eighty years in its final product, which may be why it sells for over three hundred dollars up here).

The Peruvian 40% rum of Ron Millonario 15 is, without verbose embellishment, luscious. No, really. Issued from Rum Nation’s excellent stable of products, its Toquilla-straw-wrapped appearance alone is worthy of notice – though why such a product should then degrade itself with a tinfoil cap escapes me. When I poured it out, it was amber, almost walnut in colour, and smells of vanilla, hibiscus and lush sugary fruits arose to hug me and say hello. My dog (and sometimes my wife) growls at me when I return after a two day trip somewhere, but this rum will always have my slippers in its mouth, a drink waiting, slobber me with kisses and be happy to see me.

Ron Millonario is a company owned by the founder of Rum Nation: it was no coincidence that the first time I tried this was at the tasting where all the RN products were trotted out. The 15 is made from molasses in Peru and is the product of imported Scottish column stills, and the solera system is American and Slovenian oak barrels in four rows. Depending on how you read the website, they age the oldest part of the blend for fifteen years or the final blend for fifteen years, but truly, I don’t mind which it is, because the resulting taste is superb.

Beautifully smooth. Thick, oily, creamy. A shade spicy, cherries, toffee, bananas, red flowers, all sweet and luscious, dissipating after a bit to be replaced with a tartness right up there with the sharp rejoinders of my friend and colleague Mary B.-H. when faced with inimitable idiocy…and this saved it from becoming just another liqueur, thank God (otherwise I might have been snorting “Pyrat’s!!” into my glass). The 15 deepened and became even warmer and more inviting as it opened up, and quite frankly, the fade is remarkable for something this cheap: long lasting, slightly dry, very smooth, saying a pleasant goodbye with aromas of chocolate and pecans.

My father has often been quite vocal and disapproving of my hedging (he once asked me the same question seven times in order to get a definitive answer, which is either a statement about his persistence or my evasiveness). “Make a stand, dammit!” he would snap. “And live with it.” I thought of him as I wrote this: and so yeah, for all those who have been patiently read this far, let me say it out loud.

The answer to the question at the top of this review is “No”. I must concede this definitive answer not because it’s a poor product, but because I know there are more out there I haven’t sampled, and the XO made by the same company is on par. But my take from my experience, is that it’s without question one of the best soleras I’ve ever tried, the best value for money product of its kind. It’s a worthwhile addition to the cabinet of anyone who is tired of the standard fare, prefers a sweetish, smooth, deceptively complex rum with a shade of attitude…and is getting bored with the more well-known Zacapas of this world.

(#126. 86/100)


Update August 2016

In the years since this review came out — I tried it in 2012 — I’ve taken a lot of flak for my positive assessment of the two Millonarios. Fellow reviewers and members of the general public have excoriated this rum and the XO for being loaded – destroyed – with so much sugar as to make them a “candied mess.” I acknowledge their perspective and opinions, but cannot change the review as written, as it truly expressed my thoughts at that time.  Moreover, the profile I describe is there and cannot be wished away, and if the rum is too sweet for many purists, well, I’ve mentioned that.  About the most I can do at such a remove — short of shelling out for another bottle and trying it — is to suggest that if sweet isn’t your thing, deduct a few points and taste before you buy.

And a note for people now getting into rum: sweet is not a representative of all rums, least of all high end ones.  The practice of adding sugar in any form to rums, to smoothen them out and dampen bite (some say it is to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear), is a long-standing one, but gradually being decried by many who want and prefer a purer drinking experience (Plantation and Rum Nation are two companies which sometimes engage in the practice, which they term “dosing”).  It remains legal in many rum producing nations.  As with most aspects of life, sampling a variety will direct you to where your preferences lie.

Oct 192012
 
The lush voluptuousnes of Raphael, captured in a bottle with a bit of Peruvian sunshine

Soft. This rum is so soft. It is breezes in the warm tropical twilight, the lap of waves at low tide on a deserted Caribbean island, the first unsure, hesitant and oh-so-sweetly remembered kiss of your timid adolescence. It is your mother’s kitchen on a rainy day, fresh bread baking in the oven. It is a 40% Peruvian piece of magic, and if it costs a shade over a hundred bucks, I can only say that I believe it to be worth every penny. Want a slightly pricey introduction to sipping quality rum that seduces, not assaults? Here it stands.

I asked the question of the Ron Millonario 15 Solera whether that was the best solera in current commercial production, and had to say no, largely on the strength of this one – not because the XO is better: it’s simply as good in a different way. Note that both rums are made in the solera system from a Scottish column still distillate; the 15 is made from a four barrel solera, but the added richness of the XO makes me suspect (like my Edmontonian friend does) that either this is a five barrel system, or they aged it longer somehow. Details remain sparse. The two are almost twins with obscurely opposing characters, and while the 15 is cheaper and therefore better value-to-quality overall, I must concede that on a complete aesthetic, the XO probably has it.

Consider the appearance, which would probably make my departed Maritime friend the Bear weep with happiness: cheap black cardboard cutout that won’t add to the price, embracing a flattened squarish bottle that has handsomely gold etched lettering and a faux-golden tipped cork. It looks just classy enough to not be considered a cheap knockoff aspiring beyond its pedigree.

I should remark right at the outset that the XO is a rum deserving to be savoured, not swilled, because while the nose began just swimmingly – honey, a slight minty zest, mango and papaya and flowers – it only got better as it opened up, adding a delicate green and vegetal background, and subtle aromas of coriander and brown sugar. I tried this in tandem with the Millonario 15 solera and that one was excellent also, but it was eclipsed by the sheer complexity of this baby.

And the taste, nice. Again, gets more complex and interesting as time goes on: right off the bat I was enthused about its gentle, velvety smoothness (not altogether surprising for a 40% solera), and the arrival of white chocolate, buttery, creamy caramel. A shade heated without malice, spicy without bitchiness, which was a perfect offset for the sweet notes that coiled around it. That sounds straightforward enough but tek a chill and wait (as my brother back in Mudland would say). Just like with the nose, further flavours shyly emerge and when I tell you that I got a slight smokiness, old dusty leather, fresh fruit and white flowers all in tandem, you can understand why everyone I’ve ever shared this with sings its praises. I’ve already distributed a bottle or two in tasters over a mere few months (and that’s phenomenal given my hermitlike nature and how few friends I have who like rums). As for the exit, it is excellent, chocolate-like (of the milk kind), smooth, long and departing with a last mischievous fillip of those fruity notes.

In fine, unlike the 15 which began well but simply stayed at that level of excellence, the XO started slowly, built up a head of steam and then gently and powerfully released its character over time. For sure this is not a mixing agent, and it rewards the patient – it gets better as it opens up. I’m not sure a higher proof would improve this marvellously made Peruvian product, and I’m not asking for it to be made so (though I might not object either). It’s great as is…don’t mess with it, except perhaps to dial down the sweet a shade.

If you are a raw, uncompromising Caledonian or his Liquorature acolyte (did someone say “Hippie”?) who likes harsh briny sea salt in your beard and the wind in your face and peat in your cask-strength drink, then the softness and relative sweetness of this rum, harking as it does of sunlight and warmth instead of rocks and northern waves, is definitely not for you. The cask strength whiskies are savagely executed Goyas compared to Ron Millonario’s voluptuous females painted by Raphael and Titian, so it comes down to taste and character and preference. My own take is merely that the makers of Ron Millonario XO Especial, with this lovely rum, have pressed all the right buttons and made all the right incantations in producing a rum that raises the bar of rums in general, and soleras in particular. Yet again.

(#127. 88/100)


Other Notes:

  • Like most solera rums, this one is sweeter than the average and that may be off-putting to drinkers who prefer a drier, sharper and more ascetic “rum-like” profile. Personal preferences therefore have to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to buy it or not.
  • In 2019 the Millonario Cincuenta (“50”), a 10th Anniversary companion to this rum, was issued.  It was also added to. I reviewed it in 2020 with a much more modest sub-80 point score.

Update August 2016

In the years since this review came out — I tried it in 2012 — I’ve taken a lot of flak for my positive assessment of the two Millonarios. Fellow reviewers and members of the general public have excoriated the rum for being loaded – destroyed – with so much sugar as to make it a “candied mess.” I acknowledge their perspective and opinions, but cannot change the review as written, as it truly expressed my thoughts at that time.  Moreover, the complexity I describe is there and cannot be wished away, and if the rum is too sweet for many purists, well, I’ve mentioned that.  About the most I can do at such a remove — short of shelling out for another bottle and trying it — is to suggest that if sweet isn’t your thing, deduct a few points and taste before you buy.

And a note for people now getting into rum: sweet is not a representative of all rums, least of all high end ones.  The practice of adding sugar in any form to rums, to smoothen them out and dampen bite (some say it is to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear), is a long-standing one, but gradually being decried by many who want and prefer a purer drinking experience (Plantation and Rum Nation are two companies which sometimes engage in the practice, which they term “dosing”).  It remains legal in many rum producing nations.  As with most aspects of life, sampling a variety will direct you to where your preferences lie.