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 is – and 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 it – if 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 subtler – that 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.