Jul 162020
 

The Rum Nation Panama 2009 edition exists in a peculiar place of my mind, since it’s the unavailable, long-gone predecessor of the 18 YO Panamanian which RN released in 2010; this in turn was one of the first Panamanian rums that I had tried that wasn’t an indifferently blended bland blah, that possessed more years and complexity than I had heretofore experienced, and was an all round lovely drinkor so I thought at the time. Nearly a decade later, my opinions of Panamanian rums is no longer so stellar: but in all honesty, to see a rum from Rum Nation that predates the current age of rum we’re living in is reason enough sometimes, to just grab the bottle, whip out the notebook, and spend an hour or so putting the pour through its paces.

Rum Nation itself needs no introduction, though you can read the bio of the company Fabio Rossi founded in 1999 and sold in 2019 here if you’re interested. They have always had three kinds of rums: [i] the ‘starter’ rums [ii] the multi-decade-old Demeraras and Jamaicans, and [iii] the Rare Collection of upscale limited releases. Especially in the starters, there have always been justified grumbles and accusations about dosage, however minor, but of late this practice has been discontinued. I was unable to test this one, unfortunately, but based on how it profiled, I would suggest that yes, it had a little something extra, just not enough to make it a competitor for AH Riise.

That dealt with, let’s get right into the rum. Considering the nose and the smell, the first word I wrote was “light.” It had a nice mixup of bitter tree bark, strong black tea, crushed walnuts, and a nice layering of butterscotch, vanilla and salted caramel. It developed with further hints of leather, some smoke, light molasses and seemed to be a completely decent exemplar of the lighter latin column-still style that was so in favour when it was made and now so disregarded, by so many. For its strength, 40%, I quite liked it.

That was the smell, but what did it taste like? Eighteen years in a barrel must, after all, show its traces. To some extent, yes: again, light is the operative word, though gentle can work too. Nuts, leather and butterscotch, a bit of brine and molasses started the party going. The other band members joined in latervanilla, white guavas, figs papaya, watermelons, watery pears, and even coconut shavings, cloves, white chocolate, almonds and molasses. But in spite of these good beginnings, they just started bigand then dropped rapidly off a cliff. All those tastes literally disappeared in seconds, and made a mockery of the finish, which only displayed a short, briny aftertaste of peanut butter, almonds and caramel. Essentially, not much action in the jock and you can see how far the rum world has progressed when you compare something like this to today’s solid offerings.

In fine, the 40% strength is part of the problem, and it’s it’s too thin, too wispy, too fleetingly easy. I suppose it can be classed as a soft evening sipper but even within that quiet profile there’s too little going on, and I remember liking the 2010 edition much morebut then, those were more innocent times and we had experienced less. The Rum Nation 2009 says rather more about my changing tastes than about itself. Up to about 2014 I liked 40% blends and the smooth slinky Central American rums from Panama and Nicaragua quite a bit. For example, Rum Nation’s own 21 YO Panamanian scored 89 points in early 2013; another high point came with the Panamonte XXV, to which I awarded what would be a now-unthinkable 87 points that same year; and the last one I remember scoring that well was the Peruvian Ron Cartavio XO at 88 a year later. But by then I had started gravitating towards stronger, clearer and more forceful rums that tasted off the scale and gradually moved away from the somnolent ease of the Spanish style.

Had I tried this Rum Nation product back at the beginning, I believe 84-86 points would have been its lot: now, with so many years of trying, tasting, and thinking about rums from all points of the compass, it ranks higher for providing a window to the world of Ago than purely for taste and enjoyment (although I did like it enough, let me be clear about that). It’s a rum from those uncritical uncynical times at the dawn of the rum renaissance and deserves to be written about in that veinbut alas, the big-eared, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newb who should do that has left the buildingand his successor is a little harder to please.

(#745)(80/100)


Other Notes

As far as I know, the rum stock comes from Varela Hermanos, who make the Abuelo brand, and aged in American oak ex-bourbon barrels. Awaiting some feedback from Fabio Rossi, and will update the post if needed.

Oct 252017
 

#396

Since 2013 when I first wrote about the A.D. Rattray Panama rum from Don Jose, the lack of any real effort by Panamanian rum makers like Origines or Varela Hermanos (among others) to go full proof, issue single barrel, well-aged, or year-vintage bottlings has made me lose a lot of my initial appreciation for that country’s rums and I don’t seek them out with the enthusiasm of previous years. There’s just too much mystery and obfuscation going on with Panamanian distillate, and other rums which crossed my path more recently, like the Malecon 1979, Canalero, and Ron Maja were relative disappointments.

That leaves the independents to carry the flag and showcase some potential, and there aren’t many of those, compared to the tanker-loads of juice coming to the market from Jamaica, Guyana or Barbados. One of the last I tried was Dirk Becker’s Rum Club Private Selection Panamanian 15 year old issued in 2016 (it hailed from Don Pancho’s PILSA facilities), which I thought gave the country’s rums a much needed shot in the arm and showed that a rum aged for fifteen years and bottled north of 50% was a really good product. That same year I tried this one: Christian Nagel’s 11 year old rum which was sourced from Varela Hermanos (home of Abuelo), distilled on a column still in May 2004, aged in Panama and then bottled at 52.7% in Germany in June 2015 — and came with an outturn of a measly 247 bottles.

Like Rum Club’s offering, it wasn’t bad, being a solidly built piece of work, light in the manner of the Panamanians generally, the strength adding more intensity to the profile. There was a clear sort of white wine fruitiness on the nosepineapples, pears, some tartness, a little caramelwound around with a thread of citrus, all in a very good balance. To call it “easy” might be to undersell itit edged towards the crispness of a dry Riesling without ever stepping over and that made it a very good experience to smell.

There’s nothing to whinge about the palate: it started out with the big players of lemon peel, caramel, and vanilla, with some spiciness of oak well under control. It feels and tastes a mite heavy, somewhat sweet, which suggesting some dosinghowever, I was unable to confirm this, and neither was the bottler, Christian Nagel, who was emphatic that he himself had added nothing and expressed his frustration to me at his inability to find an unmessed-with rum from Panama, or a rum where the chain of production-evidence is clear and unambiguous. The finish was short and a little sweet, with crisp fruitiness, more lemon peel, pears, and cherries, all very low key and over quickly.

Christian Nagel, who founded Our Rum & Spirits, is not exactly an independent bottler in the normal sense of the word (or, he didn’t start out that way back in 2014 when he bottled his first one), because the rum business is, for him, a sideshow to his restaurant which serves rums as part of the menu. Yet he keeps cropping up at the Berlin Rumfest, and has multiple bottlings from Guyana, Barbados, Panama and Jamaica, and in 2017 carted off a few medals to add to his stash and burnish his reputation as someone who knows how to pick his casks….so my opinion is that he’s becoming more of a bottler than he started out as, which is good for all of us.

Overall, the rum presented as perfectly serviceable, very drinkable, but I felt it lacked originality and real top-notch quality. Certainly cask strength Panamanian rums like this one are a step above the wussy forty percenters which corner the market in North America, because by being that way they are more assertive, and allow smells and tastes to be more clearly defined and appreciated. So they are, overall, somewhat better. Still, when it comes right down to it they continue to lackwell, adventure, character. A particular kind of oomph. I always get the impression the distillers are stuck in the fifties, when light Spanish column-still distillate was the rum profile du jour. When one considers the rip-snorting island products coming off the estates these days, the mad-scientist ester-squirting power bombs that get issued, each racing to see which can be more original, Panamanians just fizzle. This one is better than most, but it still doesn’t entirely make me rush to go out and buy a whole raft more.

(84.5/100)

Mar 292013
 

A liquid, light peanut butter and jelly sandwich, heightened with unsweetened chocolate and displaying enormous smoothness and quality. Great product.

Ron Abuelo Centuria is the top of the line Panamanian rum originating from Varela Hermanos, the outfit that brought the 7 year old and 12 year old to the table, issued in late 2010 to celebrate their Centennial.

It’s said in some places to be solera-system-aged for thirty years in used bourbon barrels and in others that the blend of rums (some aged thirty years) was run through a solera: but one must always keep in mind that in any solera rum, only a small fraction of the resultant is actually that old (the math suggests it can be as little as 5% after less than ten years, and the average age of the blend trends towards seven). I make these remarks not to denigrate the product, just to inject some caution (and reality) into pronouncements regarding its age.

Not that you need to know all that, because taken by itself, this is quite a product. Ensconced in a wooden and cardboard box, in a neat bottle with a decent cork, there’s very little about it that doesn’t work. Except maybe the €155 price tag: considering that only 3000 bottles were made, this may be deemed cheap to some lucky fellows who have more money than I do.

Nose first: cherries, dark chocolate, coffee, walnuts and vanilla came right out of the initial pour of the bronze mahogany liquid. Really quite nice, but I suspect there may be some alien DNA in the Centuria somewhere, because after moving on and settling into a creamy, deep burnt sugar and caramel bedrock, there were some discordant background notes that melded uneasily with the core scents so well begun: salt biscuits and a certain musty driness (without being particularly arid) that just seemed, I dunno, out of place. It wasn’t enough to sink the Bismarck, but it wasn’t expected either.

The rum raised the bar for premiums by being phenomenally smooth, mind you. Bitch and bite were long forgotten dreams on the palate, as on the nose: the Centuria may lack the furious, focussed accelerative aggro of a Porsche, but that isn’t its purpose (especially not at 40% ABV) — it’s more a fully tricked-out Audi sedan, as smooth and deceptive as proverbially still waters. Caramel, nougat and burnt sugar flavours led in, followed by a slow segue into a combined smoky, salt/sweet set of tastes reminding one of pecans and dried fruits like dates and figs, not fleshier ones like peaches. In fact, this became so pronounced as to almost dismember the sweeter notes altogether (but not quite,which is to its real creditgreat balance of the competing flavours was evident here).

The exit is more problematic: though quite long for a rum bottled at standard strength, there’s something of that buttery caramel salty-sweet tang that doesn’t quite click for me. Yes it was pleasantly heated and took its time saying adios, which is fineI just didn’t care for the musky, flavours so remniscent of a peanut-butter-and-chocolate energy bar. I should hasten to add this is a personal thing for me, so you may like this aspect much more than I do. And I can’t lieit’s a damned fine rum, a more-than-pleasant fireplace drink on a nippy night, leading to deep kisses and warm embraces from someone you’ve loved for a very long time.

I often make mention, with top end rums that cost three figures and up, about elements of character. What I mean by this is that the complexity of the parts should lead to a harmonious commingling of the whole in a way that doesn’t repeat old profiles, but intriguingly, fascinatingly, joyously seeks a new tier of its own, for better or worse. The Centuria has character for sure, and what that does is make it different, albeit in a manner that may polarize opinion, especially at the aforementioned back end.

Still, this rum would have, as many overpaid management types in my company would say, all the key performance indicators identified, the drivers nailed down and quantified, all the basic boxes ticked. But then there’s the fuzzier stuff, the weird stuff, the stuff that some guys would call “over and beyond” or “elevated performance”, boldly going where no executive has gone before. In this Anniversary edition rum made by a solid company with quite a pedigree, it’s clear that they’ve succeeded (all my bitching about the off-notes aside). This is an excellent sipping rum where components come together really well, are dead serious about their task of pleasing you, and have taken time out to address some real complex subtleties. This is not the best rum of its kind ever mademy own preference on the Panamanians edges more perhaps towards the Rum Nation Panama 21but if you’re buying what Varela Hermanos is selling, they sure won’t short change you.

(#151. 88/100)


Other notes

  • The business about the Centennial is somewhat confusing: Varela Hermanos traces its origins back to 1908 when Don José Varela Blanco founded the Ingenio San Isidro sugar mill, the first in Panama, with alcohol distillation beginning in 1936. So I’m unclear how this rum was first issued in late 2010 to commemorate a hundred years of operations.
  • According to online remarks made by others at the time, but not represented on the bottle or its box, the Centuria contains no additives for colouring or flavour. This is, however, contradicted by hydrometer tests here (27g/L) and by Drejer (20g/L) and PhilthyRum (20g/L).

 

Feb 022013
 

A victory of Nurture versus Nature.

The Panama Red (named for some lady of possible legend in a story too long to go into here but which you can certainly google) is perhaps better categorized as a full proof rum, something between about 47-70%. I make the distinction in order to separate such rums from the standard strength of 38-46% which we see most often, and those we tend to think of as real overproofs, 57% or greater (the article The Proof’s In The Drinking goes into somewhat more detail on the topic). However, since it is termed an overproof in most reviews, I’ll just make the observation and move on.

Of all the stronger variations of rum I’ve tried Cabot Tower, the various 151s, the awesome DDL Albion 1994 60.4% and the raging monster of Longpond 9this one may be among the most beguiling (not necessarily the best), largely because it upended many of my expectations. It is so well made that one might, on a first try, feel he was drinking a standard strength rum and only know the difference after attempting to rise a few glasses later and toppling in an unceremonious heap (but hopefully saving the bottle).

The first thing I noticed when comparing the rich red-brown Panama Red against other Panamanians on my shelf (the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old, Cadenhead 8, Panamonte XXV and the Abuelo 12) is how almost perfumed the nose was. The others were solid rums in their way, with interesting profilesespecially the Rum Nation 21 and the Cadenheadyet once the searing alcohol fumes blew away from this one, it evinced a remarkably different scent of jasmine, nutmeg, honey, nougat, cinnamon and nuts to go along with the slight caramel and burnt sugar under-notes. Of course, as one might expect from a more intensely proofed product, it was a bit sharp, just not unpleasantly so….another surprise.

And the palate was also very different, quite strong: there was something really light and springy, almost cheerful about it. I find that many high-test rums tend to be somewhat navy in charactermore taste is added at the deep end to mask the fangs of alcohol. Not here. Spicy citrus and orange marmalade, sweet honey, white chocolate, figs and sharp yellow fruitmore like almost-ripe firm yellow mangos than bananasand a sort of candied orange chocolate mixing it up with a very slight smokiness of leather and tobacco and oak. A little ginger, cinnamon and baking spices, really nice, and unusually smooth for such a strong rumnot on the level of, oh, the Panamonte XXVthat would be lyingbut smooth enough for a 54% drink….which raises the inevitable question ofdosing.I should point out that all these varied flavours are much more pronounced if you do a comparative tasting, as I did. And the finish was lovely, long and heated: oak tannins, tobacco and a last sly hint of orange peel slinking away into your memory and taking residence there.

According to what research I’ve cobbled together, the Panama Red is produced from sugar cane grown in Las Cabras de Pese in Panama (the distillery for Panamonte is also located there). The rum, made from molasses, is a blend of stocks aged in the usual ex-Bourbon casks for up to five yearsoddly, the official website makes no mention of the real ageing: Jim Wasson, the CEO of Panamonte, was kind enough to provide the detail. Anyway, it’s all well and good. Yet to meand I may be totally wrong about this, so feel free to make up your own mind or point me in the definitive direction of a refutation) – this kind of ageing does not normally impart a taste quite this rich, such a cornucopia of chirpy, limbo-dancing flavours to what is essentially a rather young rum. Now, because the interaction of oak and wood and climate, to say nothing of subsequent blending, is such a complex one, I hesitate to suggest that it’s been spiced or sugared-up and simply not mentionedbut I feel it is. Not that I mind, particularlyI’d just like to know for sure one way or the other. After all, given the wild popularity of spiced rums these days (to say nothing of the emerging backlash against undisclosed additives), there should be no issue with labelling it as such (which was the argument given by my Edmontonian rum chum, who suggested that this was why it wasn’t notedbecause it isn’t).

The Panama Red is made by the same crew who make the Panamonte XXV, were involved with the Ron de Jeremy (tailor made for giggles and crude mandingo jokes), and perhaps even the same original stock as the RN Panama 18 and 21 (I’m on the fence about the Abuelos). There’s something in the subtle alchemy of all these rumsmany of which have had the hand of Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez of Zafra fame touch them at some point in their developmentthat suggests a common ancestor coiling lazily beneath them all. Which just goes to show how masterful blending and ageing can begin from a similar base and then make something spectacular out of it. The nurture here may really be more important than the nature.

Perhaps what I really appreciate about the Panama Red is its overall smoothness, unusual in an oomphed-up rum, and its lovely palate and mouthfeel. Almost everyone I’ve met who has sampled it, expressed some level of astonishment at these characteristics, and all rated it higher than usual. And while I’m no lemming, and cast a more-than-unusually jaundiced eye on spiced and sugared rums as a whole (even assuming this is one) I must concede its quality, and give it a (qualified) recommendation myself. Whether you want to mix it with something to create a subtle, taste-drenched tropical cocktail, or simply take it by itself so you and it can tango in tandem as I did, there is no question that if you like Panamanians, want something stronger, and are on a bit of a tight budget, the Panama Red is a pretty good buy.

(#143. 81.5/100)


 

Jul 042012
 

A more rambunctious, slightly less cultured younger brother of the same company’s 21 year old rumcomplex, hearty, smooth and a full-out tonsil-pleaser.

If the Rum Nation Panama 18 year old had been released on its own without further statement, as it first was in 2000 (I got the 2010 release), it would have been a success by any yardstick, and indeed I make no bones about thisit’s damned good. It does not fail next to its older siblingit’s simply a shade different. And though the 21 year old is better (yes it is), this should not diminish the achievement of Rum Nation in making the 18 at all.

As if in counterpoint to the faux-silver-lined box of the 21, the 18 comes in a standard cardboard enclosure with a peephole, much like a three dimensional equivalent of the buff envelope containing your gas bill, though undoubtedly more pleasant to receive. The bottle was a straightforward barroom style one, with a plastic cork saying nothing in a particular. Presentation, therefore, was kept minimal, which, for an eighteen year old product, I found surprisingany other maker would have trotted out the dancing girls and razamatazz, but perhaps Fabio felt he had more and even better stuff in the pipeline, and so took even this excellent product and kept things stripped-down.

And that might make you believe it’s the red haired bastard stepchild, perhaps lacking something (maybe legitimacy?). Nope, no such thing. Red gold in the glass, those faint sulphury notes that seem to be the defining characteristic of Rum Nation’s products I’ve tried wafted up at me, slightly heated, and pungent, mixed in with mellow notes of soft sweet peaches and just a mischievously sharp hint of oaky zest to tweak your schnozz. A shade more, ohassertive. What a nice nose you have granny.

The arrival of the medium bodied rum came with a tantaraa of trumpets: dark chocolate, tobacco, well-cured leather. It was more tart than the 21, a shade briny, with a soft hint of the ocean, and as dry as a Brit expat’s sense of humour. An odd combination, and in no way offensive. Perhaps a better word would be distinctive. The oaky background of the pungent nose remained, and united with the aforementioned tastes that were tempered with honey and licorice notes. I loved this rum at first taste nearly a year ago, and still think it’s quite the bees knees. Maybe it was because it was aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casksI’ve noticed that such multiple cask ageings tend to impart slightly more complex notes (not good in every case, but here, yes).

Finish was softly heated and gently assertive, like a father’s hug, bringing in the last fumes of aromatic leather and dark chocolate. I believed then as I do now, that the 21’s finish is better, but let no-one kid you about the 18 – it’s very very good, and since it costs around a third less than that admirable product, you could do worse than splurge on it. Fortunately, neither is so expensive that you have to pawn your kidneys to get one.

Varela in Panama makes this rum for Rum Nation, and here I should make a couple of notes for those who are interested in such things: 1. something like six to eight thousand bottles are made annually, and there’s a run for each year, noted on the bottle 2. Caramel is added at the beginning of the ageing process to the barrels, said caramel made fresh on site, from the same sugar cane as the rum itself and at the same time (does this qualify as an additive? seems a bit of a gray area) 3. All ageing is done in Panama; and 4. This was one of Rum Nation’s first products (the company was formed in 1999 and the first issue of this rum was in 2000), and I think that on the basis of its innovation and quality, it helped establish the company as one to watch.

So here is a rum that in the opinion of this writer, will one day be seen as rightfully taking its place with El Dorado, Juan Santos, Mount Gay, Appleton and others. Rum Nation’s Panama 18 is a sunshine rum that perpetrates a brilliant, splendid and useful shell game on us as drinkers: it is a not quite ultra-premium rum that’s an absolute riot to drink. Mix it if you want to, but come on, why would you? When that kind of Aphrodite-like body beckons to you alone, well my friends, it might almost be a sin not to dance.

(#113. 83/100)

Jun 152012
 

Drink this and marvel. Who would have thought the El Dorado 21 or the Juan Santos 21 might have serious competition? For a whisker over $100, Rum Nation’s Panama 21 year old rum will titillate your palate, lift your spirits and be your best friend for life.

We are always wrestlingphilosophically speakingwith change. And as we get older, we who instituted change, embraced it, championed itwe regret the passing of the old ways which we once loved, but perhaps not well enough to preserve, and now can only remember. I think this way on occasion, and regret the accelerating movement of years, and fall into a reverie the Japanese call mono no aware, which describes a wistfulness about the transience of things. That’s the state in which my mind was, on the rather depressing day I cracked the Rum Nation Panama 21. It is a single domain product, with a limited production run from a company of which I am a rabid Trekkie-style fanboy. I liked their products so much on a single taste that I bought one of everything they had made, and then went back and stocked up on a couple extra of my favourites. They really are that good.

Consider. Genuflecting rather disdainfully at the “I don’t want to be dinged extra for packaging” Rum Nation placed it in a sturdy, silver-wrapped cardboard enclosure that hugged the elegantly shaped decanter tightly. Forget the box, thoughthe bottle itself was admirable in shape and contour, and bears out my contention that the overall aesthetic must be considered as part of your experience (and my review), especially as you climb the dollar scale.

Things started swimmingly once I poured it out. Panama rums are not quite as heavy as Demeraras, yet this one evinced slow, fat legs of an impressive oiliness (as opposed to the rather anorexic agricoles I’ve never learned to appreciate properly). Fruity, soft, sweet scents billowed up immediately, intermingled with that faint hallmark rubberiness reminiscent of supercar doughnuts on the tarmac (but nowhere near so aggressive or overwhelming as to be offensive, let me hasten to addit added a nice touch of distinctiveness). This lovely nose further evinced traces of light flowers and perhaps a shade of smoke. Heavenly, truly.

It was on the palate that I realized I was sampling something quite special: smooth and silky, yet aggressive too (I half-expected it to be bottled at 43% or greater based solely on that observation, but no…); the rum tasted of cherries, peaches, freshly scooped-our tangerines, and by some weird alchemy, also aromatic pipe tobacco and well-cured leather. The Panama 21 was also a shade dry, exactly enough to counterbalance the sweetness which would otherwise have become cloying. The mouthfeel? … simply outstanding, both gentle and assertive at the same time. All of this led to a lasting, smooth fade that was heated and the slightest bit oaky: the rum was aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, all in the Varela plantation of Panama, to which some small amount of caramel is added at the time the barrel is filled, made from the same sugar as the rum itself (and from the same plantation’s cane)

Rum Nation out of Italy focuses on the upper segment of the market, with aged rums originating from specific plantations, aged to their own specifications and with phenomenal blending. I hope these rums seriously break into the North American market, because currently the main sales are in Europe (lucky people). Fabio Rossi, the owner, has taken on the Scotch whisky makers who dabble in rums and is pressing hard on their heels. His stated credo is to make high end, limited edition rums and does he ever deliver. If I had a comment here, it would simply be that I think he should make them a shade strongermaybe 43% or 46%.

In summary, then the Panama 21 year old is an excellent, lovely rum, reasonably affordable for its ageit shares a price point with two other superlative rums: the El Dorado 21 and the Juan Santos 21. Because the rum is a limited annual production run (perhaps 8000 bottles or so per year) it’s kind of depressing that once this stuff is gone, much like the Caroni I so enjoyed, or the Port Ellen that serious maltsters weep over, then it’s gone forever, and we’ll never see its like again. How sad is that?

So, as noted in my opening paragraph, I sometimes fall into a bad funk. But, more often than the above statement might imply, I also take great joy in beauty and a blaze of excellence, of glory, however ephemeral. A perfectly composed photograph, a raunchy limerick, my daughter’s laughter, a golden-red sunrise, a moment of pure silence in a vast landscape, a piece of prose wittily and exactly written, a snatch of music that raises the hairs on my arm. And in the appreciation of a limited edition rum that exceeds all expectations, has that inexplicable complexity and balance and smoothness that revises my notions of qualityhowever fleeting its existence may be. That’s why this rum, for the brief shining moments I tasted it and savoured it and wondered at it, gave me a lift that comes all too rarely.

I fall into mono no aware on occasion, yes. But I don’t have to stay there, or let it consume me into melancholyRum Nation’s Panama 21 year old rum is one reason why this is absolutely true.

(#111. 89/100)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 182011
 

First posted 18th December 2011 on Liquorature.

Much as I like the Ron Abuelo 12, I must concede that somehow, by a subtle mismatch of flavour, nose, body, complexity and overall profile, this otherwise excellent rum just fails to attain greatness. That’s not to say this is not a really good product, because it isand at a price most of us can afford, you wouldn’t go wrong adding it to your shelf. The middle tiers, that is.

One problem with liking a rum is that the rum as a rule doesn’t really like you back. In fact, the converse is true: the more you indulge your appreciation for one, the more you suffer for that presumption (usually with a Godzilla-sized headache) – no rum will ever crawl into your bed, buy you that Porsche you wanted, remember your birthday, or care that you have an anniversary.

A second issue is that rums you might deem worthy of your love cost cold hard cash, and a lot of it (much like real spouses do). Now this is not a problem for professional spirits reviewers who obtain samples from all and sundry, or for a Google founder who might want a new 911 GT3 – it is, on the other hand, a rather bigger deal if you are a mere working joe like yours truly, on a limited budget. Perhaps the solution is to tread lightly: enjoy what you can for what it is, and don’t go too far off the reservation in fawning over any one product. Keep dreamin’ of the good stuff and enjoy the diamonds in the mud you can occasionally uncover.

Like this one from Panama – the Abuelo 12 year old, which was one third of the rum selection in October 2011 for what is traditionally Liquorature’s sole rum-only evening: mine. I’ve made it a practice to know nothing about any of the three rums I always offer to my guests so that their discovery is also mine. Ron Abuelo was definitely the pick of the evening on that score not because it was exceptional per se, but more because it was overall an utterly all-round above-average product

Aside from the almost-impossible to get Centuria, this is the oldest rum in the stable of Varela Hermanos SA of Panama, who have been in business of rums since 1908 when Don José Varela Blanco went operational with the first sugar mill in the then recently formed Republic of Panama. In 1935 the site began to distill sugar cane juice for the production of liqueurs, and since then the company has been expanding its range into a wide variety of different spirits products. They distil the 40% 12 year old from estate grown cane in the usual barrels that once held bourbon; it won the 2009 Ministry of Rum tasting competition for Premiums, the first year it was marketed, and followed that up with a double gold from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. And probably deserves itif after a hundred-plus years of working with spirits the company still doesn’t know what it’s doing, I’d be amazed.

Appearance wise, ostentation was kept to a minimum, as probably befits a $48 rum – cardboard box of no distinction, embossed dark brown bottle hiding the golden rum within; plastic tipped cork, seated tightly as my six-year-old’s fist on pocket money day.

The golden copper-bronze rum had remarkably slow legs which spoke well for its viscosity; the nose was initially spicy, and this faded quickly and transmuted into a rich honey-vanilla and burnt sugar accents that opened up later into subtle hints of flowers and cherries, with a sweet woody background and perhaps something subtlerthat of new-mown hay, maybe some grapefruit or other citrus rind. It reminded me a bit of both the Mount Gay XO and the Flor de Cana 7 in that respect.

Flavour-wise I had nothing to complain about. I liked it. A lot. The rum was heavier and a shade thicker than the colour would have suggested: honey, nuts and caramel were there right from the get-go. The Abuelo 12 year old was not as sweet as these remarks would suggest – there was a retention of the oak there, a bratty kind of stinging insouciance that I didn’t expect from a rum aged this long. This may have been from a shade too much oak refusing to leave, like a guest who doesn’t know the party is over. But even so it was smooth and possessing a reasonably complex profile that took time to emerge. That taste deepened on standing to slightly briny but rich molasses, and here I’d suggest that it trended toards a younger El Dorado…perhaps the ED 12 year old.

As for the fade, it was long lasting, smooth, if not entirely balanced – vanilla, tannins, dried fruits and a hint of the burnt sugars didn’t quite harmonize (but still, let me hasten to add, damned good for all that). I’d suggest that it missed being superb by some small slip of the blender’s art (or my own predilection for other profiles). But let me be clear: it’s above average and most people buying it will not be disappointed. It has points of similarity, as noted, with the Ron Zacapa (though not as smooth and not quite as sweet), Cruzan Single Barrel, Flor de Cana 7, Mount Gay XO and El Dorado 12 or younger. My take would be to have it as it is and don’t mix the thing.

I said at the beginning that rums you love are usually heartless products that give you a clonk on the head instead of returning your affection, and cost a bundle to obtain. This is true for many top-end products, but not this one: Ron Abuelo 12 year old is a reasonably gentle, occasionally-harsh-yet-loving, soft and slightly off kilter rum that doesn’t cost your left arm to get, will treat you with the respect you deserve and won’t viciously burn your precious vintage Superman comic book collection of you don’t like it. It’s moderation personified, not too much of any one thing, and delicately treads the line between too sweet and not sweet enough, between too smooth and too harsh. That probably won’t endear it fully to people with delicately attuned noses that can dissect a rum’s bouquet into fifty constituent pieces – but maybe, at end, this is a rum for the rest of us: those of us who are not Google founders or professional sample receivers, and who simply want a damned good drink that won’t bust the bank.

(#089. 79.5/100)

Dec 182011
 
Abuelo 7

First posted 18 December 2011 on Liquorature.

Better than the Ron Abuelo 12 year old, if not quite as smooth.

As a general rule, the older a rum is, the better it’s supposed to be, and price points certainly follow on from that. We pay extra money for the ageing, the loss the maker suffers from the angel’s share, the supposed care and expertise taken in blending and smoothening out all the aged components so as to balance out the oakiness. So you’d think the older the rum, the better, right? Not so in this case. In fact, I reviewed the 12 and the 7 year old rums side by side and had to check my results not twice, but three timesjust to make sure it wasn’t a mistake (as you can imagine, during that exercise my computational aptitude went down exponentially, hence the third check to make sure).

Ron Abuelo 7 is the younger, brasher, more insouciant sibling of the top of the line Abuelo 12 year old from Hermanos Valeros about which I wrote very recently. Made from sugar cane syrup (rendered down cane juice) deriving from cane growing right by the Varela Hermanos distillery in Panama, it is distilled in a four-column still and then aged for the duration in ex-bourbon white oak casks prior to final blending – the youngest rum in the final blend is seven years old.

I have no clue why rum producers seem to think that brown, nearly opaque, bottles, are considered a plus – it hides the colour of the spirit within from the casual browser in the shop and gives no basis of comparison even at that admittedly coarse level. Be that as it may, the amber-gold rum – it has the appearance of fresh honeyis embraced by a simple, plastic-capped bottle, no biggie there. Presentation is rock solid without flamboyance of any kind. “I’m a rum,” this thing proclaimed with low key machismo”nuff said.”

Right off, the nose suggested that I had was something different. Without a real sting to the snoot, the Abuelo 7 revealed scents of chocolate and coffee wallowing in a caramel burnt-sugar bath. Soft, smooth and easy on the inhale, with traces of vanilla, straw and caramel. The aspects of this nose were impressively strong and distinct (not usually the case with middle-aged rums, where one often has to strain to get the slightest hint of aromas so subtle they would make Jean Baptiste Grenouille faint with the effort).

And the arrival was, simply put, excellent. Though not quite as heavy on the tongue as the 12, it’s medium to heavy body was impressive by itself, and it shared the 12’s lack of overall sweetness. However, its smoothness and overall complexity carried me past such concerns regarding sugar: I was tasting caramel, vanilla, some oakiness and a more earthy flavours, and hidden in the back end were muskier hints of leather, of damp ground steaming after a tropical rain and baked fruit enveloped in a kind of smokiness which I found delectable. All this with almost no burn at all: I wouldn’t mix this with anything, and even over ice I might not enjoy it as much. The fade was long, deep and lasting as well, and while here some spiciness started to creep in, it was not unpleasant, but more like the deep heat generated by reddening coals in your fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or exactly the right note of strength and heat you’d want as you watch the sun sink hissing into the ocean in a pleasant tropical twilight, with a glass of this stuff in your hand. What a lovely, lovely rum this was.

Were I to wax metaphorical (again), I’d suggest that what we’re talking about here is character. The difference between various movie actors portraying the same role – and the best example might be James Bond. The Abuelo 12 aspires to be Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore – exquisitely dressed, urbane, debonair, unflappable, always ready with a quip, with the culture and breeding right there out front on the lapels of the Savile Row suits – but lacking, I dunno, some kind of down to earth machismo. The Abuelo 7 is more like, oh, Connery; or better, Daniel Craig. Brooding, capable, awesomely efficient, dynamic as all get out, yet not as well-bred. I mean, with the Abuelo 7, as with Mr. Craig, you get the elemental brutality and proficiency of a well-educated street-thug. And believe me – I mean that as a real compliment. The Abuelo, on the levels described above – taste, smoothness, complexity and character – makes me hurry to see Casino Royale again, while sticking Goldeneye and Moonraker back on the shelf.

(#088. 81/100)