Jan 142021
 

Ahh, that magical number of 23, so beloved of rum drinking lovers of sweet, so despised by those who only go for the “pure”.  Is there any pair of digits more guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of those who want to make an example of Rum Gone Wrong? Surely, after the decades of crap Zacapa kept and keeps getting, no promoter or brand owner worth their salt would suggest using it on a label for their own product?

Alas, such is not the case.  Although existing in the shadow of its much-more-famous Guatemalan cousin, Ron Presidente is supposedly made the same way, via a solera method of blending about which not enough is disclosed, so I don’t really buy into (too often what is claimed as a solera is just a complex blend). Oliver & Oliver, a blending company operating in the Dominican Republic, was revived in 1994 by the grandson of the original founder Oliver Juanillo who had fled Cuba in 1959.  It is a company whose webpage you have to peruse with some care: it’s very slick and glossy, but it’s not until you really think about it that you realize they never actually mention a distillery, a specific type of still, source of distillate, or any kind of production technique (the words “traditional pot-still method” are useful only to illustrate the need for a word like cumberworld).

That’s probably because O&O isn’t an outfit formed around a distillery of its own (in spite of the header on Flaviar’s mini bio that implies they are), but is a second-party producer – they take rum from elsewhere and do additional work on it.  Where is “elsewhere?”  It is never mentioned though it’s most likely one of the three B’s (Bermudez, Barcelo, Brugal) who have more well known and legitimate operations on the island, plus perhaps further afield as the back label implies..

Well fine, they can do that and you can read my opinion on the matter below, but for the moment, does it stand up to other rums, or even compare to the well-loved and much-derided Zacapa?

I’d suggest not. It is, in a word, simple.  It has an opening nose of caramel, toffee and nougat, hinting at molasses origins and oak ageing.  Some raisins and prunes and easy fruit that aren’t tart or overly sweet.  Plus some molasses, ripe papaya, and strewed apples and maple syrup. And that syrup really gets big in a hurry, blotting out everything in its path, so you get fruits, sweet, and little depth of any kind, just a sulky kind of heaviness that I recall from El Dorado’s 25 Year Old Rums…and all this from a 40% rum.

It gets no better when tasted.  It’s very darkly sweet, liqueur-like, giving up flavours of prunes and stewed apples (again); dates; peaches in syrup, yes, more syrup, vanilla and a touch of cocoa.  Honey, Cointreau, and both cloying and wispy at the same time, with a last gasp of caramel and toffee.  The finish is thankfully short, sweet, thin, faint, nothing new except maybe some creme brulee. It’s a rum that, in spite of its big number and heroic Jose Marti visage screams neither quality or complexity.  Mostly it yawns “boring!” 

Overall, the sense of being tamped down, of being smothered, is evident here, and I know that both Master Quill (in 2016) and Serge Valentin (in 2014) felt it had been sweetened (I agree). Oliver & Oliver makes much of the 200+ awards its rums have gotten over the years, but the real takeaway from the list is how few there are from more recent times when more exacting, if unofficial, standards were adopted by the judges who adjudicate such matters. 

It’s hard to be neutral about rums like this. Years ago, Dave Russell advised me not to be such a hardass on rums which I might perhaps not care for, but which are popular and well loved and enjoyed by those for whom it is meant, especially those in its country of origin — for the most part, I do try to adhere to his advice.  But at some point I have to simply dig in my heels and say to consumers that this is what I think, what I feel, this is my opinion on the rums you might like. And whatever others with differing tastes from mine might think or enjoy (and all power to them – it’s their money, their palate, their choice), this rum really isn’t for me.

(#794)(74/100)


Other Notes

  • The rum is named “Presidente”. Which Presidente is hard to say since the picture on the label is of Jose Marti, a leading 19th century Cuban man of letters and a national hero of that country.  Maybe it’s a word to denote excellence or something, the top of the heap. Ummm….okay.
  • On the back label it says it comes from a blend of Caribbean and Central American rums (but not which or in what proportions or what ages these were). Not very helpful.
  • Alex Van der Veer, thanks for the sample….

Opinion

I’ve remarked on the business of trust for rum-making companies before, and that a lot of the compact between consumer and creator comes from the honest, reasonably complete provision of information…not its lack.

I make no moral judgements on Oliver & Oliver’s production strategy, and I don’t deny them the right to indulge in the commercial practice of outsourcing the distillate — I simply do not understand why it’s so difficult to disclose more about the sources, and what O&O do with the rums afterwards.  What harm is there in this? In fact, I think it does such non-primary brand-makers a solid positive, because it shows they are doing their best to be open about what they are making, and how…and this raises trust. As I have written before (in the reviews of the Malecon 1979, Mombacho 1989, Don Papa Rare Cask and Dictador Best of 1977) when relevant info is left out as a deliberate marketing practice and conscious management choice, it casts doubt on everything else the company makes, to the point where nothing is believed.

Here we get no info on the source distillate (which is suggested to be cane juice, in some references, but of course is nowhere confirmed).  Nothing on the companies providing the distillate. Nothing on the stills that made it (the “pot stills” business can be disregarded). We don’t even get the faux age-statement fig-leag “6-23” of Zacapa.  We do get the word solera though, but by now, who would even believe that, or give a rodent’s derriere? The less that is given, the more people’s feeling of being duped comes into play and I really want to know who in O&O believes that such obfuscations and consequences redound to their brand’s benefit. Whoever it is should wake up and realize that that might have been okay ten years ago, but it sure isn’t now, and do us all a solid by resigning immediately thereafter.

Apr 072013
 

D7K_6415-001

38% weakling, of pleasant taste approaching real complexity, but with no real assertiveness.

Originating in the Dominican Republic (home of the Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo brands), the Opthimus 18 artestinal rum is a solera rum, quite good, but too weak for me. It’s made, like the excellent Solera 25 whisky-finished version, by the firm of Oliver and Oliver, a company in existence since the mid 19th century and founded by the Cuban family of Juanillo Oliver, a Catalan/Mallorcan emigre. Abandoning Cuba in 1959, members of the family re-established the company in the early nineties in the DR after finding the supposed original recipe for their forebears’ rum. They also produce the Opthimus 15 (which may be the best of the lot simply because it is a shade younger and has therefore not been smoothened out so much as to eviscerate its more complex nature). The 18 I tasted was bottle 4 of 316 in the 2011 production run, and cost €65 for the 500ml bottle pictured above.

The 18 twitches all too feebly. The nose, in spite of the rum’s relatively weak knees, did try its best to kick a bit, and evinced notes of cinnamon and breakfast spices, together with a faintly musty air, like biscuits and straw; a vegetal sort of nose, deepening gradually into caramel and burnt sugar notes. Quite gentle, all in all, with no heat or burn to turn one off, yet also lacking in a strong kind of aroma that would have made it score more highly. Want to know why I disdain underproof rums? Look no further, as this is a good example of the thinness and overall wussiness I don’t care for in rums (but full disclosure – my preferences run more to beefcakes greater than 40% these days, so your mileage may vary)..

The palate offered no real redemption. What struck me as sad about it was simply that while it tasted pretty good, had a scintillating background complexity that strove to emerge and recall the potential of both the 25 and the 15, it was too scrawny on the body and too weak on the taste buds to really tug at the senses; and therefore it could not offer a strong, assertive profile that would have made me appreciate it more. Caramel, sweet brown sugar, bananas and softer, riper fleshy fruits, some nutmeg and cinnamon and lemon grass, quite faint. Finish was short, aromatic, but like a one night stand, gave too little and was gone too quickly, taking your hard earned money with it.

D7K_6414

Opthimus 18 is aged by ex-Cuban master blenders via a solera process for eighteen years in total (so the oldest part of the blend will be that old, not the youngest). Oliver & Oliver uses rum stocks bought elsewhere, and ages them in oak barrels prior to final issue: they also have brands like Cubaney, Quohrum and Unhiq in the stable, though I have yet to try any of them, and they act as third part blenders to other companies as well. Given the plaudits they’ve received from other reviewers, all I can conclude that this is the runt of the litter, and somewhat of an aberration.

Summing up, a rum like this leaves me with too little. Those of you who bemoan my verbosity and essays that never end will love this one, because beyond the bare bones tasting notes, and my personal opinion, there’s not much I can give you. This solera rum shows all the evidence of being well made and well crafted, yet sinks itself at the end by not having the strength to go with its potential. In essence, then, this is an Opthimus that has yet to develop into a Prime.

(#153. 78/100)


Other Notes

  • Drinking the rum neat is recommended, it’s good enough for that. My relatively low score reflects a dissatisfaction with intensity and firmness of the tasting elements.
  • Distillery of origin is unknown

 

 

Oct 042012
 

Smooth, soft, voluptuous Tomatin-cask-finished solera rum that expresses its admiration for your awesomeness without coyness or complexity, just unalloyed, warm affection. And a bit of a quirky side.

You are entirely within your rights to ask what the number actually means in the context of a solera’s given “age”. Generally accepted useage holds that it does not mean the oldest or youngest component of the blend, but the average of them all: which is no more than proper given that the solera process is based on a percentage of the rums in one level of barrels being progressively poured (and mixed) with barrels containing yet other percentages in another level over a period of many years. The Bicentenario out of Venezuela, for example, claims that rums as old as eighty years of age are components of the final product (hence the price)…but no solera maker I’ve ever researched makes any mention of how much of each age forms the final blend, though sometimes you are informed of how long that final blend is itself aged.

None of this would be more than an academic exercise unless it was for the fact that since we are never quite sure what percentage of what age is in our “average x years” solera, we therefore are never certain whether the price we pay is worth what we are getting (unless we get a taste first, in which case…). However, some general observations I’ve made is that soleras are sweeter and smoother than the average, get better the higher the number is, a bit pricier, and are much liked (look no further than the Ron Zacapa 23)….yet lack something in the way of real complexity, real depth…real oomph. I like them just fine, and they sip quite well, mind you, so let these remarks not dissuade you. When I meet persons who know they want to try one of my rums, but not which one, it’s almost inevitably a solera I trot out, ‘cause I know they’ll enjoy it.

One of the best I’ve ever tried is the Opthimus 25, originating in Dominican Republic, home of the Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo (and Matusalem) and bottled by Oliver & Oliver, a company in existence since the mid 19th century and founded by the Cuban family of Juanillo Oliver, a Catalan/Mallorcan emigre. Abandoning Cuba in 1959, members of the family re-established the company in the early nineties in the DR after finding the supposed original recipe for their forebears’ rum. They also produce the Cubaney line, and the sub-par Opthimus 18 (at a jelly-kneed 38%) and the fully awesome Opthimus 15 (which may be the best of the lot simply because it is a shade younger and has therefore not been smoothened out so much as to eviscerate its more complex nature). The 25 I tasted was bottle 795 of 1350 the 2011 production run, and cost an eye-glazing €108 for the 500ml bottle pictured above.

Like most soleras I have tried, this 43% ABV version was warm and soft and billowy to the nose, with scents of caramel and burnt sugar being subtly upstaged by nutmeg, banana and cinnamon…and an odd kind of brininess hinted at, not driven home with a bludgeon to the schnozz. And the label makes it clear why: the rum was finished in Tomatin malt whisky casks in Scotland (no info is given as to how long, alas). That’s quite different from many other rums, which finish in wine casks of some sort (though Cadenhead, you’ll recall, does have the Laphroaig-finished Demerara rum). I shrugged and passed on – after all, the feinty wine notes of the Rum Nation products enhanced the overall profile, so who was to say this was bad?  Not I.

The arrival was also a bit off the beaten track, with the brininess I had noted sticking around as if to see wh’appenin’ (as my West Indian squaddies would say); a bit sweet, a bit salty, like biscuits in a teriyaki sauce (I kid you not). There was a touch of iodine-like peat in there, but the rum itself was brown-sugar-sweet and smooth and strong enough not to be overwhelmed by it, and that sly touch of mischief appealed to me a lot, a fact aided by a lovely, warm finish with no hint of malice or bile in spite of the 43% strength, redolent of caramel and breakfast spice (and yup, that touch of brine again, sneaking in through the back door). Honestly, this reminded me nothing so much as of the lovely brown-skinned, dark-eyed Guyanese lasses I regularly fell in and out of love with in my teenage years…warm, friendly, smart, inviting, funny and with just a touch of the flirt to keep me at bay.

I’m going to go on record as saying this is a pretty good rum, it beats out the embarrassingly underproofed 18, and yup, it’s a bit pricey; still, for my money it is eclipsed by the cheaper 15, the same way some believe the El Dorado 15 is a better rum than the 21 or 25 (my father among them). I don’t often hold with such uninformed opinions from my supposed elders and purported betters, dogmatically held and long (and loudly) proclaimed. Yet in this case I have to concede that while the 25 is a really well put-together rum which presses all the right buttons (and loves me, unlike all the aforementioned lasses, who probably had better sense), it somehow, through a subtle loss of alchemy, fails to quite be the Prime it may have been meant to be. Note that there are other variations of the 25 out there, some weaker, some finished in different casks

Let that not stop you from trying it if you have a chance, though. You won’t be sorry. It’s a lovely rum.

(#124. 86/100)


Other notes

  • I sampled this in 2012, and going at it again in 2016 suggested how my preferences and perceptions charged.  There’s an undercurrent of sweetness to it I had not paid enough attention to before.  I have not done an in-depth check for additives but it’s likely (based on taste alone), so caveat emptor.