Aug 132020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(#752)(72/100)

Mar 042020
 

Rumaniacs Review #111 | 0707

Back country Mexico has creole hooch like the Paranubes to keep the flame of pure rums alive, and larger, better known brands like Mocambo, Ron Prohibido, Los Valientes et al are there for those with deeper wallets or more upscale tastes. And Bacardi has long been known to have made rum in the countrynot just their own eponymous brand, but also a lower-priced, lesser-ranked ron called Castillo, which was created specifically to take on low cost alternatives which were cutting into Bacardi’s market share.

That’s the rum I have in front of me, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention others: the Castillo brand name is found in rons from Ecuador, Cuba, Spain, Panama, sometimes but not always made by Bacardi. What’s available now (the Gold and Silver) is made in Puerto Rico, which suggests some brand relocation by The Bat; and this Imperial underproof is, as far as I know, no longer being made since about the 1980s. In that sense, it’s a victim of the timesconsolidated, moved, reworked, reblendedI found references to the Imperial going back to the 1940s when a Mexican company called A. Laluque y Cia was making it (using pretty much the exact same label), which says something for its longevity.

ColourLight Gold

Strength – 38%

NoseMild, soft, fruity, not bad. It has some olive oil and brine notes to it, a touch of red wine. Some light fruitsapples, watermelon, pears. Gets weaker over time

PalateDon’t expect much from 38%, you’re sure not getting it. It’s light, it’s watery, it’s nigh tasteless, and can be had neat easilynot just because of the low strength but because, like Spicoli, there’s so little of anything behind it all. Some pears, pineapple juice (much diluted), papaya, cucumber, a touch of citrus peel. Caramel and sweetened chocolate.

FinishLacklustre, pretty much tasteless. Light sweet sugar water infused with caramel and a sprinkling drip of molasses

ThoughtsDid people actually drink stuff like this as a “serious” rum, even forty years ago? I guess it would perk up a cocktail without leaving anything of its own character behind, like a Cheshire’s smile, and that was the thing back then. But it was created as a budget rum, and they sure got what they paid for, back then.

(74/100)

Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’tthe Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mindthese things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domacithecis pronouncedchand the word means “Domestic”is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay. If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi. As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regimeif your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one saysrum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the BalkansBosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germanyand has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West. Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with namingthe EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.

Nose first. Nope, not my cup of tea. It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon. Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry astraditional”. Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsensebut okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook. It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own.

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay and you reading it, now, so do you. Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)

Jun 262019
 

The fourth and last of the four Dutch West Indies rums that I obtained solely to shed some light on the islands is a pale 35% shrug of indifference called the Palmera White Aruba rum. You know me, I have a thing for unapologetically barking-mad high-proofed white rumsbut dis ain’ dat, as my bushmen squaddies would say back in the old days.

Were you to google it, you’d find that the Palmera Quality Products company produces several rumsnotably the White and the Dark “authentic Arubian rums with a rich heritage flavour” at standard strength, and is at pains to mention on its About page that “PQP produces many different beverages in its own processing plant…[and] produces products locally from carefully developed formulas that meet international standards.” No mention of a distillery, a blender, a sugar cane source, an ageing regimen. Call me a cynic, but it sure implies a mass-produced neutral-spirits-treatment operation to me, not a rum made by a dynamic master blender who knows his sh*t, let alone by a distillery that can be identified.

And maybe that’s why I can never find out anything about these companies, and why the Dutch West Indian islands’ rumsthe San Pablo Gold label and Platinum White from Curacao and the Carta Reserva from Arubahave singularly failed to make any lasting impression on the rumisphere. That might also explain why nobody ever posts an ecstatic hosanna on FB saying “I got this!” and then basks in the glory of the hunt concluded, the find immortalized, the cheers of the envious crowd modestly acknowledged.

So then, what was in the glass that day? A white rum, 35%, supposedly from Aruba (I suppose otherwise), and very little to go on beyond that. As befitting its puny mouse-that-roared proofage, it didn’t give off much of an aromasugar water, grass, dill, the sweetness of laundry detergent and a tad of lemon juice. It was marginally more assertive than the Carta Reserva, and maybe a shade better balanced between some sweet and lemony components.

The taste was mostly sodas: 7-Up or Sprite, cream soda. Some vanilla, coconut, and vague herbaceous flavours, sugar water and pears, and believe me, that was reaching. Maybe it’s an island thing, to make rums this weak (the current rums listed on the website are similarly proofed, bar a pair of 151s), but all a rum like this one can do is juice up a cocktail or give you a headache in hot weather because you won’t think something so mild could affect you, when of course it can.

The Palmera is as unprepossessing as all the others from the region I’ve sampled (bar the untried overproofed 151s). It’s light and white, weak and meek, and after the first three tries with its cousins, I approached it with distinct lack of enthusiasm, and finished the tasting exercise with relief. The rum just, I dunno, has this indifferent air of “good ‘nuff” that offends me for some reason, like barely enough effort was put into it to make it sell, and no more. Even the Curacao San Pablo rums at least had the courage to go to 40% instead of messing around with this underwhelming strength.

Socrates remarked that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Where I to apply that here and paraphrase, I’d add a codicil that the Palmera and its cousins makes inevitable“Sometimes the examined rum is not worth drinking.” Sorry, but here that’s God’s own truth, and the best I can say about it is that although it’s pointless and purposeless and near tasteless, let’s be grateful that at least it’s painless.

(#636)(64/100)


Other notes

The design of the modern labels is quite different from the one I bought, so I assume there’s been some changes over the years. I don’t know if the blend or recipe was changed when the label did, nor am I aware when this happened

Jun 242019
 

This is one of those strange rums that clearly exists, but about which nobody seems to know anything, even though I was informed it remains on sale in Aruba to this day. Jazz Singh out of the UK couldn’t helphe rather witheringly remarked that the only local stuff he found on the island was “a lot of imported column rubbish” and that the one distillery Aruba used to have is definitely closed. And good luck with finding any info on the company whose name is on the label, Playa Liquor and Bottling Co, ‘cause that’s equally opaque and non-communicative. So for the moment I’ll treat is a sort of low rent tourist trap hooch. In fact, I’m not even sure what else the company does, so spare is Playa’s online footprint, on FB or elsewhere.

There is an air of “generic” about the rum. It has a title used before“Superior Carta Reserva” was also a 1970s Puerto Rican rum made for E.F. Debrot Inc (a liquor merchant in Aruba), and it’s white, it’s 35%, and that’s about all you’re going to get here. I’d hazard a guess it’s a column still product, and that it’s made elsewhere under contract by a third partyassuming it continues to be made at all, because there’s simply no way that any rum company would not advertise its own product, even locally, with this kind of promotional black hole.

Tasting notes, then, because what else can we do? Nose: a thin, watery, a slightly salty cream soda and Angostura bitterswhat we used to call a “rockshandy” when I was a boy. Plus vanilla and a whiff of citrus. There’s not much moreit’s like light alcoholic water and no aroma of any distinctiveness whatsoever.

Palate? Nope, not a whole lot there either. 35% ABV excites little beyond my indifference. Even having it first thing in the morning with nothing else before, so that the strength would be less of a factor than later, achieved nothing. A splash of salt water and an olive or two, vanilla again, a short, faint bite of a very ripe apple, and maybe a pearor was that a cucumber? Who cares? The thing is so dim, so bland, so lacking anything resembling character, that you be forgiven for thinking it was in witness protection. The best part is the short, sweet, slightly salty, slightly dry finish, because, you know, it finishes.

So there we are. Probably molasses based, filtered, an uninspirational, boring, flaccid excuse for a rum, distinguished only by its remarkable lack of anything in particular. It’s a hollow rum, a watery alcohol delivery system, eliciting nothing in the rum drinker except perhaps a big yawn. I’ll just leave it there.

(#635)(65/100)

Mar 132019
 

By today’s standards, Brugal, home of the very good 1888 Gran Reserva, made something of a fail in the genus of white rums with this Blanco. That’s as much a function of its tremblingly weak-kneed proof point (37.5%, teetering on the edge of not being a rum at all) as its filtration which makes it bland to the point of vanilla white (oh, wait….). Contrast it with the stern, uncompromising blanc beefcakes of the French islands and independents which blow the roof off in comparison: they excite amazed and disbelieving cursesthis promotes indifferent yawns.

To some extent remarks like that are unfair to those who dial into precisely the coordinates the Blanco providesa light and easy low-end Cuban style barroom mixer without aggro or bombast, which can just as easily be had in a sleepy backroad rumshop someplace without fearing for one’s health or sanity after the fact. But they also encapsulate how much the world of white rums has progressed since people woke up to the ripsnorting take-no-prisoners braggadocio of modern blancs, whites, clairins, grogues and unaged pot still rhinos that litter the bar area with the expired glottises of unwary rum reviewers.

Technical details are actually rather limited: it’s a rum aged for two years in American oak, then triple filtered, and nothing I’ve read suggests anything but a column still distillate. This results in a very light, almost wispy profile which is very difficult to come to grips with.

Take the noseit was so very faint. Being aware of the proof point, I took my time with it and teased out notes of Sprite, Fanta, sugar water, and watermelon juice, mixed up with the faintest suggestion of brine. Further sphincter-clenching concentration brought out hints of vanilla and light coconut shavings, lemon infused soda water, and that was about all, which, it must be conceded, didn’t entirely surprise me.

All this continued on to the tasting. It was hardly a maelstrom of hot and violent complexity, of course, presenting very gently and smoothly, almost with anorexic zen-level calm. It was thin, light and lemony, and teased with a bit of wax, the creaminess of salty butter, coconut shavings, apples and cuminbut overall the Blanco makes no statement for its own quality because it has so little of anything. Basically, it’s all gone before you can come to grips with it. Finish? Obviously the makers didn’t think we needed one, and followed through on that assumption by not providing any.

The question I alwys ask with rums like the underproofed Blanco is, who is it made for? – because that might give me some idea of why it was made the way it was. I mean, the Brugal 151 was supposed to be for cocktails and the premium aged anejos were for sipping, so where does that leave something as milquetoast as this? Me, if I was hanging around with friends in a hot tropical island backstreet, banging the dominos down with a bowl of ice, cheap plastic tumblers and this thing, I would probably enjoy having it on the rocks. On the other hand, if I was with a bunch of my fellow rum chums, showing and sharing my stash, I’d hide it out of sheer embarrassment. Because compared with the white rums which impress me so much more, this isn’t much of anything.

(#608)(68/100)


Other notes

Company background: Not to be confused with Dominica, the Dominican Republic is the Spanish speaking eastern half of the island of Hispaniola…the western half is Haiti. Three distilleries known as the Three Bs operate in the DR: Bermudez in the Santiago area, the Santo Domingo distillery called Barcelo, and Brugal in the north coast. Brugal, founded in 1888, seems to be the largest, perhaps as a result of being acquired in 2008 by the UK Edrington Group (they are the makers of Cutty Sark, and also own McCallan and Highland Park brands), and perhaps because Bermudez succumbed to internecine family squabbling, while Barcelo made some ill-advised forays into the hospitality sector and so both diluted their focus, to Brugal’s advantage.

There are other blancos made by Brugal: the Ron Blanco Especial, Blanco Especial Extra Dry, the 151 overproof, and the Blanco Supremo. Only the Supremo is listed on their website (accessed March 2019) and seems to be available online, which implies that all others are discontinued. That said, the production notes are similar for all of them, especially the 2 year minimum ageing and triple distillation.

Jan 062012
 

A low proof rum that is impressive right out of the gate, suggests quality and subtlety past compare, and then gives up and runs full tilt into the wall. What this rum might have been with some extra strength….

First posted 6th January 2012 on Liquorature.

(#099. 77/100)

***

Right off the bat I have to state my preferences: I am not a fan of underproofs. They have a fake air of smoothness that has less to do with a blender’s art than with a low alcohol content. Spirit imparts depth and character to a rum (as I have observed with overproofs from time to time), and the lack thereof forces the distiller all too often to make up for the shortfall with additives.

With the Colombian Ron Viejo de Caldas 8 anos (bottled at 35% according to the label), however, I may have to revise this assumption, since not only did the Colombianos age this for eight years as if in defiance of all conventions for a rum less than 40%, but the thing is actually quite a decent drink which, because of its relative weakness, can be had as is without embellishment. I can’t say this makes me an instant convertbut it does make me less of a detractor.

Ron Viejo de Caldas is made by the Industria Licorera de Caldas from Colombia. It started small, as a little known artesinal rum from the provinces, but clever marketing and its own quality have made it a more internationally known brand than heretofore. It was created by a Cuban Don Ramón Badia at the behest of the Caldas Fine Perfume and Rum company in 1926 (not as unusal as it may sound, since a good nose is key to both) and in 1959, boosted by good sales, a distillery was set up; in 2009, the company produced 25 million bottles of various rums. Nowadays, the brand is produced in Manizales, the provincial capital of Caldas, 7,200 feet above sea level. Located in the shadow of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, the distillery is now equipped with column stills and sources its sugar cane syrup from the Cauca River Valley, where sugar cane is cultivated all year round.

On the nose the first impression one gets is a kind of supple fruitiness: peaches, citrus, nectarines and maybe a ripe mango or two. Raisins and cinnamon and maybe nutmeg can barely be made out. The aroma is rich and deep and actually reminds me a bit of a good bourbon, or a rye (just a sweeter one). And upon opening up, the brown sugar notes start to dominate in a very pleasant burnt sugar I always love.

The dark copper liquid has a pleasantly heavy body, and is smooth and a shade sere: there is less sugar and and molasses on the taste than the nose suggested, and this might be because the rum is not made from molasses, but from sugar cane syrup. The ageing in bourbon barrels certainly left its mark in a slight woodsy note at the back end, and this was not unpleasant, just distinctivea bit of character added to the gene pool, so to speak

The fade might be the weakest part of the rum, and this is where the low alcohol content shows its true colours and abandons your snootjust as you expect a lingering smooch from what you may have thought was a lovely undiscovered gem you alone have sampled, itdisappears. No seriously. It has one of the shortest finishes of any rum I’ve ever had, and that’s something of the character that’s missing along with the true 40% or greater ABV content.

All things considered, I just don’t get why this rum had to be an underproof at all (unless I got a variant that’s not commonly exported). It has a lovely body, a terrific nose, a good tart and tasty palate, and then, just like Dick Francis’s horse all those years ago, it just falls flat on its belly and skids to a sudden sharp stop without explanation or apology. The 40% variation I did not have won a bronze medal in 2007 and a gold in the 2009 Ministry of Rum tasting competition for premium rums, but fellas, all I can say is that good as that may make it, ensure you check the label for the proof before you buy this in a duty free shop someplace, or you might be a little disappointed

I’m giving this baby 77 points on the strength of its great opening act, and had it not been for the weak conclusion, it would surely have topped 80. It reminds me of unadorned rums, subtle, complex and not too burdened with noticeable additives of any kind. I just wish I knew what the real forty percenter was likeon the strength of this one, it must be quite something.