Dec 212020
 

The Cuban-made Vacilón brand was launched in 2016 (as a relaunch of an apparently very popular brand from the 1950s) and has been making the rounds of the various rum festivals off and on. It’s part of the brand’s “luxury range” of 15 / 18 / 25 year old rums, which is fine, except that as usual, there’s very little to actually go on about the production detailswhich remains one of the more annoying things about latin rons in general, hardly unique to Cuba.

Suffice to say, it is made by Destilería Heriberto Duquesne attached to the local sugar mill located in Remedios in the north-central coast of Cuba under the overlordship of Cuba’s government entity Tecoazúcar. Founded in 1844 and previously known as Santa Fe, this is a distillery that produces pure alcohol as well as export rum, and makes the Vigia and the Mulata rum brandsso consolidating the information we have from those (here and here) we can say with some assurance that it’s a column still light rum, aged in ex-bourbon barrelsand that barrel strategy, coupled with skilful blending by the roneros, is behind its taste profile, not any kind of terroire or pre-distillation techniques or pot still component.

How does that all come together when it’s time for the theory to take a back seat? Judge for yourself. Personally, I found the strength to be anemic at 40%. It allowed aromas of caramel, nuts, flowers, coffee and cocoa to come through, just not with any kind of punch or assertiveness. Some light fruitswatermelon, papaya, guava, nothing too boldshyly tiptoed on to the stage but at the first sigh of appreciation they panicked and ran back off again.

Tasting it made it clear this is a soft, warm sipping rum to be had by itself, and savoured that wayeven ice might destroy its fragile and delicate construction. That’s both its appeal and (for me) it’s downfallI tasted caramel, butterscotch, bon bons, a bit of hazelnut, lemon zest, cumin and dill, a touch of ripe pear and that was it. The finishwell, it trailed off like an unfinished sentence, trending towards silence without ever having drawn attention to itself. Which is, I must concede, about what I had expected (though not what I had hoped for) and which defined the rum as a whole.

Let me be clearthe Vacilón is a perfectly “nice” rum. On the surface, based on the label, it hits all the high points. It’s from Cuba, home of a long and proud tradition of rum making stretching back centuries. It is fifteen “true” years old. And if it’s only 40% well, cask strength isn’t the rumiverse and standard strength rums should not be looked down upon just because they lack the spirituous equivalent of Ahnold’s biceps in his prime.

Except that that was not the way the experience unfolded. I can live with the faint, quiet, wispy proof, I just needed to focus more, and harder, to tease out the tasting notes. But it was simply unexciting, lacking appeal, not making any kind of serious statement for its own uniqueness and quality. It could have been five years younger and not been appreciably different. Why in this day and age they didn’t at least try to jolly it up to maybe 43% or 46% remains one of those unanswered questions to which rons have yet to respond. Maybe it’s because they sell quite enough of what they do already and see no reason to change.

That of course is their privilegerums like this do have their fans and markets. But as long as rons’ makers only keep trotting along the same old track at the same old pace, they’re only ever going to end up getting dismissive reviews like this one, and placing themselves in the “also-ran” finishing spot. Or even further back in the listings, which is something of a shame for an otherwise decent product on which maestros roneros expend so much time and effort. I think they can do better for today’s audiences, and they should at least give it a try, instead of recreating blends that were popular the 1950s but which are no longer as much in fashion now as they were back then.

(#787)(76/100)

May 022013
 

D7K_1292

Parts of this rum succeed swimmingly, others less so.

This was the second of two rums brought over some days ago, by my squaddie Tonyhe of the famous 151 proof rumballs guaranteed to lay you out flat under the table in labba time. I remember having about four of these alcoholic grenades a few years back, and then having a serious and lengthy conversation with a doorpost for the next ten minutes, thinking it was the Hippie. Tony had the good fortune to visit Cuba recently, and being one of the few Caners in the whole province (he claims to have seen a few others of our near-mythical breed in occasional flyspeck watering holes, though this may be mere rumour), he brought back both this rum and the 12 year old Santiago de Cuba I looked at before.

So what to say about this one? Well, first of all, it’s not of a level quite comparable to the sterling 12 year old mentioned above, but it reminded me a lot of another Cuban rum I reviewed some months before, the Ron Palma Mulata de Cuba, which I didn’t care for all that much in spite of its also being aged twelve years. After doing some research, it came as no surprise that the same company made them bothTechnoazucar. The company website barely makes mention of this rum beyond some technical details, which I find an odd omission.

Secondly, the Vigia is made from sugar syrup, not molasses, which may account for something of its lighter, vegetal nose (the title of the rum comes from Hemmingway’s residence in San Francisco de Paula, Havana). Be that as it may, the mahogany rum did indeed have a rather herbal tang to it: dry, spicy, with hints of lemon grass, orange zest, dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Not aloofly astringent like Professor McGonnagal, more like, oh Professor Spoutplumper, more inviting, pleasantly earthy and absolutely no-nonsense. I thought that nose was the best thing about this product, though the taste wasn’t much behind.

The palate morphed from the aforementioned grassy notes to something quite differenta touch of red grapes and wine surrounding the caramel and burnt sugar core. A floral background of white blossoms stole gently around these aromas, and the mouthfeel was pleasant, without drama or overacting of any kind. Not all that smooth, but not overly spicy eitherit was quite a difference from the Mulata, and closer in profile to (if lighter than) the Santiago de Cuba. Certainly it was sweeter than either, I should note, just not enough to be either cloying or offensive. A medium long, none-too-special exit redolent of caramel and flowery notes, plus some crushed walnuts, light smoke and leather, rounded off the overall profile.

So, the nose was pretty decent, the palate almost as excellent and the finish just meh. The Vigia tasted like a youngish rum (5-7 years, I judged), one to mix in a nice daiquiri perhaps, or that old standby, the Libre. Some of my ambivalence comes from me seeing it as an agricole, not so much a molasses based product, and while I have great admiration for such rums when properly made (such as in the French Caribbean Islands), here it just seems that they wanted to produce a mid-tier rum without too much additional effort, saved their love for more top tier products, and let it go as it was.

Which is strange because it’s better than the Mulata 12 year old even without that extra care and attention. How odd is that?

(#158. 83/100)


Other Notes

Subsequent research suggested that as a Gran Anejo the ron is supposedly a blend of rons 12-15 years old but I still lack independent verification as of 2021

Apr 252013
 

D7K_1288

Very few discordant notes in this excellent 12 year oldjust perhaps a little less intensity than I’m after, maybe a shade less complexity.

The Cuba Rum Corporation’s 12 year old rum is a very well put together product that reaffirms my belief that if the US embargo is even lifted in part, rums should be high on the list of products allowed into the country just so those poor souls south of 49 can see what they’ve been missing. This rum is proof that Cuba remains high on the list of nations making some of the best rums out there.

Other bottles in the Santiago line made by the CRC are the Anejo, the 11 year old, 20 year old and 25 year old, and while it is dangerous to imply on the basis of a single tasting how others in the series turns out, all I can say is that after sampling this one (provided by my friend Antonio after he returned from the Island, in a rum tasting session at my house that was quite epic), I’m really looking forward to checking out all the others. Because this rum is very good indeed, even if it could (in my sole opinion) be made a shade stronger than the 40% at which it stands.

Lighter than some of the Demeraras I’ve been trying recently, but more assertive than the softer Bajan and Panamanians, the 12 year old had a lovely mahogany colour with ruby hints, which swirled thickly in my glass, releasing a very pleasant, pungent nose of muted orange peel, cherries and sweet, light flowers. These initial scents blossomed into a rich and fruity aroma that presented notes of cherries, vanilla, coconut and (if you can believe it) cola. In its own way, it released both perfumed and deeper caramel scents, with hardly any smoke or tannins at all.

D7K_1290

As for the arrival, that was amazing. Smooth and yet heated, warm and inviting on the palate. Based just on the colour, I would have expected it to be thicker and heavier to the taste, yet it was actually a bit light and dancing as all get out, as if I had seen Jack Black turn into Gwynneth Paltrow. Some smoke, nuts, caramel, papaya and brown sugar were the various commingling notes I was tastingbut what I want to emphasize is something of the overall balance and harmony these flavours achieved, the way they merged into a mouthfeel that was, quite simply, luscious. A medium long exit left behind fond memories of caramel, ripe yellow fruits and a faint perfumed note of citrus that faded only reluctantly.

This relatively dark coloured, light tasting rum could probably be bettered, but for the life of me I don’t see how unless it is to torque it up a shade. The boys who make the Santiago lineI read that the rum is made in the old Bacardi facilities which the family left behind after the Cuban Revolutionhave taken the light rum methodology pioneered by the old maestros and created something quite spectacular here: its Gold Medal at the 2012 Berlin RumFest was probably no accident. It succeeds at many levelsnose, taste, mouthfeel, finishand though perhaps my tastes these days run to somewhat stronger fare, I can’t argue with the results contained in this bottle.

D7K_1285

I came across a reference online that the Santiago rum (no further detail) was Castro’s favourite. That may be purely anecdotal, and I have lots of great hooch in my own stocksbut I can state with some assurance that if you have a shelf containing your own favourite sipping rums, this one can, without embarrassment or undue favour, be displayed proudly among all the others residing there.

(#157. 86/100)


Other Notes

In August 2019, Corporación Cuba Ron (“Cubaron”) signed a deal with that bastion of capitalism, Diageo, to distribute Ron Santiago de Cuba internationally (not including the USA, obviously). This is probably not good news for Pernod Ricard, the long term distributor of Havana Club and Diageo’s rival in the spirits business.

Jan 042013
 

 

Great noser, lackluster on the palate, and all-over unusually light. I think of this as an agricole, more than arealCuban rum.

I’ve said before that Renegade’s series of rums are occasionally squirrellysome are pretty cool, like the St Lucia variant, while others strive for greatness and stumble at the end, like the Grenada or the Guyana 16 year old. But in few other editions of the series, is that periodically discombobulated nature more on display than in the Cuba 1998 11 year old, which was not only a leap away from what might loosely be interpreted as a Cuban rum profile, but is actually a bound over the skyscrapers of rum taste that might conceivably make Superman shred his cape in rage (assuming he drinks the stuff).

The Renegade Cuba 1998 11 year old rum is a non chill-filtered, limited bottling of 1800 bottles, originally distilled in 1998 in the Paraiso distillery in Sancti Spiritus in Cuba and matured for 11 years in white oak bourbon barrels, and then finished in Amarone casks. The founding family of the Paraiso distillery, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the Central Cuban province of Sancti Spiritus (which was also near to the original Bacardi distillery). In 1946 the Paraiso Distillery was created and in 1951, the Tuinucú Sugar Company was consolidated into both plantation and distillery operations. Poor timing, if you ask me, since the revolutionary Government took over the entire kit and kaboodle not long after and has run the show ever since.

What the hell is this thing? I wondered, as I poured myself a glass of this bright amber spirit. Yes it had been finished in Amarone casksthis is a rich and somewhat dry Italian red wineyet what I was getting was less red than white, cheekily light and flowery, with notes of cinnamon, marzipan, juniper, jasmine and light caramel (this last almost imperceptible). In fine, it had the aromatic nature of the perfume department at HBC at Christmas, and French perfumes redolent of the fields of Provence in the summer time. Gradually, as it opened up, slight leathery hints, maybe sandalwood, stole coyly around the others. A wonderful, if very unusual, nose, and I spent a lot of time enjoying it.

All this changed on the palate, which had these light perfumes degenerate into a chemical plastic that wasafter that almost delicate noseas shocking as a kick to the rubs. at 46% I couldn’t avoid some heat there, not too bad and medium-to-light-bodied, not so much smooth as clean. Briny, salty, vegetal and herbal, this thing was more in the dry, straw-like nature of (get this) a tequila. Apples almost beginning to go and some dry fruits mellowed slowly into the weirdness of Joaquin Phoenix with a beard on Letterman, and I can’t say it impressed me much. The finish was spicy, herbal (again those green apples beginning to end their shelf life had their moment) and medium long, but was marginally redeemed by the zestiness of those perfume notes stealing back for one last hurrah. The rum as a whole was perky, then morose and then zippy all over again, like it needed a serious dose of lithium to get it on an even keel. The best part of it, I judge, was the nose, which really was quite spectacular. But overall, as I noted abovesquirrelly. This may be because some of the products of this distillery which are sold in Europe, are actually agricoles (made from sugar cane juice, not molasses), but this is an educated conjecture on my part….there’s nothing in my research about this rum for me to say that with assurance.

I want to be clear that on the whole, I respect and admire Renegade’s lineup and my 84 score here reflects aspects of the quality of this particular rum which is undeniable. It was the first of the European series I’ve really made a dent in (Rum Nation is the other, and I have hopes for the Secret Treasures, Cadenheads and Plantations). For sure it’s a boutique set of rums, taking its cue from the various finished whiskies that launched the fashion many years ago. Perhaps there’s where the issue liesI say they’re inconsistent, but maybe they’re just not made the way a major rum distiller would, but in the fashion of, and for a palate to please, a whisky maker. And as a result, the end product veers away from a profile which a person who is used to Caribbean tipple would preferor is accustomed tohis drink to be.

I’ve been asked many times, and see many posts on the Ministry of Rum about “Which rums are good?, or variations on “Where does one begin to start in a rum appreciation journey?I’d hesitate to tell any such curious individual to begin with the Renegade rums, any of them, because of this dichotomy. Most of the Renegades are excellent products, some spectacular, some more “meh,” and all are interestingbut occasionally one comes across a wonky off-side spinner like this Cuban rum which, at end, only a die hard rum fanaticor a mothercould truly love.

(#139. 84/100)

 

Aug 072012
 

Strong beginning is marred by a disappointing failure on the back end stretch. This rum will one day (hopefully) be a good oneright now it’s merely serviceable. For a 12 year old, that’s quite a disappointment.

Stuart and Mary, two very good friends of mine, had the decency to leave behind an excessively hefty portion of their newly purchased Mulata upon their return from Cuba the other day. This was one of those occasions when I had to do the tasting and evaluation right away, which was perfectly fine, of course. We get Cuban rums around hereCanadians lack the curmudgeonly stubbornness of embargoing that country beyond all reason for over half a centurywe just don’t get that much of it beyond the standard fare of Havana Club, Legendario and Matusalem. And as has been my custom of late, I sampled it in conjunction with the Cockspur 12 and the El Dorado 12, both of which I had been meaning to come back to for quite some time. Too bad neither Stuart or Mary stuck around for thismaybe, having reduced them to well-pickled insensibility with many of the older rums in my collection the week before (How old?” was a frequent refrain until their power of coherent speech was much impaired by yet another shot), they were reluctant to repeat the experience quite this soon.

Distilled by the Cuban company Tecnoazucar, the 12 is one of a line of rums of various ages coming from that company, none of which I’ve ever seen or tried (largely because I don’t go to Cuba, and have few friends who, if they do, bring back anything for me to try, alas). Mulata is a word one might loosely term (feminine) half-breed or mestizo or Metiz or (in Guyana) “dougla.” It may not be politically correct to refer to people of mixed ethnicity that way in this day and age, but being one myself I can’t say it bothers me overmuch, since I am of the firm opinion that through diversity and much mixing comes excellence, beauty, and something better than either progenitor’s own antecedents.

Still, this is just a name for a rum, like Panama Red referring to a redhead, or St Nicholas Abbey to a real place. Nothing much should be read or inferred by such a monikerthe rum would stand or fall on its own. Proceeding on that assumption, let me present my findings, such as they are. To begin, an impressive lead in right off the bat was the sweet scent of port wine infused pipe tobacco on the nose. Soft wafts of red grapes just trending towards ripeness, a sort of winey aspect, mile and mellow, with little assertiveness or bite….this rum liked me.

The body of the Mulata was of a sort of medium texture on the arrival, and came with a heated (but not spicy) announcement of itself that was quite pleasing: not very sweet, and dry and leathery and smooth and buttery all at once: I wish I could have had some earlier iterations of the line to see how they improved it over the years. It had a decent mouthfeel to it, that closed matters off with a faint nutty flavour and a sly sort of citrus aftertaste that was like my seven year old boy when, upon a first intro, isn’t sure he wants to meet you after all and hides behind me. In summary, Ron Palma Mulata is reasonably complexyet not married together as well as it might have been.

The finish is long lasting and heatedit scratched spitefully a bit, as if to tell me not to take it for granteddry, with a slightly salty tang, exiting with a sense of nuts and damp sea air. Here I went back through the tasting a few more times, and gradually I came to the conclusion that the spiciness and slight raw edge to the rum, at end, make it somewhat less than it could have been.

All this sounds like it’s a pretty decent product (my whinging aside), and to be fair, it is, had you never had anything else to run alongside it. It makes, for example, a lovely cocktail. The thing was, both the Cockspur and the El Dorado 12 (which I am appreciating more and more as I run other rums past it), and the agricole Karukera Cask Strength, exceed it. The taste and feel of the neat Mulata are decent enough and I’d recommend anyone going to Cuba to pick up a sample (if for no other reason than to get away from the better known brands and to stretch one’s taste buds a shade). Yet if I had to be brutally honest, I’d regretfully have to note that all things considered, the Mulata fails when compared to equally aged siblings from Barbados, Guadeloupe and Guyana. It may be because the spiciness of the Cuban style not being quite my thing, or it may simply be that the others are just tastier, smoother and of overall superior quality.

Part of this may be because Ron Mulata is a new entrant on the scenemy research notes it was formed in 1993 – and therefore lacks some of the historical experience, the generations of carefully nurtured blends and barrels and talent that the old houses possess. The Mulata range of rums stem from a sugar cane syrup base created by the maestro roneros of Tecnoazucar (a company that produces raw rum stock much like DDL in Guyana does). This rum is matured in 180 litre American white oak barrels which supposedly provide a lighter flavour profile and a distinctive bouquet.

Distinctive enough, I guess. Depending on who you ask or what you read, it may be one of the top selling rums in Cuba. That it’s a decent rum to be obtained locally on a visit to Cuba I don’t dispute, and I like it enough. But if this rum is good for anything, it’s to show how good other twelve year old rums are and can be, and, unfortunately, the flip side is that it shows up this rum’s few shortcomings as well. A decade from now it may be a world beater. Right now, it’s trailing behind other Caribbean products in my estimation, and as a rum lover, all I can hope is that as time goes on it will become a rum to watch.

(#116. 78.5/100)

 

Jan 032011
 

A blended rum given enhanced flavour by the addition of Muscatel wine prior to final ageing. This creates an unusual almost-sipper that is not entirely to my taste but cannot be denied for what it is – an intriguing essay into the craft of playing around with the basic brown-sugar sweetness of rum to get something quite unique.

First posted 3 January 2011 on Liquorature.

Legendario Ron Añejo is a Cuban rum, but makes no concessions to people North of 49 who don’t habla, since nothing on the label is English (or French). Fortunately, as a travelling vagrant, I have a smattering of several additional tongues (and can curse pretty well in about fifteen or so, but never mind), so this was no barrier. The rum is exported around the world, and is an interesting entry into the world of aged spirits, not least because its flavor profile is so exceedingly odd.

This was a rum I bought as an impulse purchase, for about thirty bucks, and my opinion was that it’s a middling rung of the Legendario product ladder. There isn’t much of that to begin with: the entire line seems to consist of six rums both dark and white, with the Gran Reserva 15 year old being the top end. The Ron Añejo is a rum that blends a 47% solera with rums that are one, four and six years old, and then a small smidgen of Muscatel wine is added, after which the resultant is aged for fifteen days in oaken casks prior to bottling. While produced in Cuba, it is marketed primarily out of Spain and although I’m not sure, I suspect that this final ageing takes place there also.

Legendario poured out as amber brown from an opaque dark-brown bottle with a cheap tinfoil cap. In the glass it exhibited a touch of oily film, yet devolved into remarkably thin legs that scooted back down rather quickly. I regarded it with some surprise, not sure what to make of this: usually when you see a filmy sheen develop on the sides of your glass, the legs tend to be rather lazy, but not here. So was Legendario a rum with good body or not?

The nose suggested it might be. I didn’t care for it on an initial sniff – I was hit by a deep and cloying fruitiness, like overripe papayas or even the Australian Bundie, neither of which is on my list of all-time favourites – and this proves why it is so necessary never to let your first try dictate your final opinion. Taking in the nose a second and third time, I got the same aroma, yes, but then it dissipated and mellowed out into scents of honey and dark sugars, infused with the sharper but muted tannins of oak. Not so much as to make it a bitter experience, just enough to prove it had been aged.

The taste was fascinating and continued on from the nose: the Añejo did in fact have a robust medium body, and was smooth and rich on the tongue, leaving a nice oily film that distributed a flavour reminiscent of cigars and tobacco (and oak). A smoky caramel-toffee flavour slowly developed and married into an emergent taste of cherries and ripe papaya. I was not entirely enamoured of this element: it was quite a fruity little number, perhaps too much so, and it was only when I did my customary research that it occurred to me that the added Muscatel – a black, quite sweet variety of grape – was in all likelihood responsible for these overripe fruity tastes I was getting hit with. I remain unimpressed with the effort while acknowledging its originality.

The fade was pretty good. Medium long and sweet, and while here again the hints of overripe fruit persisted, they were overshadowed by molasses and burnt sugar fumes that were a very pleasant way to have the Legendario go down.

What’s my opinion on this one? Tough call. I do not believe the Muscatel adds anything to it except differentiation from the crowd. It may be that there was simply too much of it, and it sort of crowded out other flavours, to the overall detriment of the whole rum. As a sipper, then, it’s borderline. As a mixer, if you take something with less than the normal amount of sugar in it – say, Coke zero or ginger ale or some such – it’ll probably make your day.

Americans, who have maintained their trade embargo of Cuba for longer than many residents of Florida have now been alive, cannot legally import any of the sterling products of the island nation, the most famous of which are cigars and rums (although I’m sure that aficionados get their stocks regardless). The Legendario is a better-than-middling product, to me: it is not on par with Havana Club’s barrel proof offerings, and I’d really like to give the Gran Reserva 15 year old a twirl on the dance floor – but it’s not bad for all that, even given its initially startling fruity nose. Legendario is nothing to break the embargo over, mind you – prospective purchasers of this rum in the USA can wait until the embargo inevitably gets lifted – but if you can get it, by all means snag a bottle.

(#060. 76/100)