A subtle, supple rum, undone by a lack of courage and strength
Consider for a moment my score on the Barceló Imperial. A 78 rating for me is a decent rum, if nothing to write home about. For a premium product, it’s something of a surprise – so here I should state straight out that that score reflects primarily its lesser proof and maybe excessive ladling in of sugar, not any other intrinsic quality. Frankly, it could have been higher.
When I originally read the Barceló Imperial review from Josh Miller at Inu A Kena, I immediately fired off post on his site to ask him whether he got the 38% version I had been avoiding for over a year in Calgary, or whether he had something a shade more torqued up. Because when I’m springing for something that is being touted as a premium (even if I didn’t in this case – it’s a soft blend of relatively young components), I’d rather have a rum that’s…well, a real rum. As it turns out, his was indeed 40%, while the one that Jay of Liquorature trotted out on my last meeting of the Collective prior to absconding, was the lesser proofed bottling.
You’d think that this 2% difference is minimal, but nope. It really isn’t. Consider first the nose on this attractively packaged, sleek looking bottle. Soft as sea breezes, sweet with scents of molasses, cashews (white ones), caramel, prunes and almonds…but all very quiet, slumbering almost, as delicate as the frangipani and white flowers which it called to memory. No intensity here at all, which is where it went south for me, trying to be attractive and pleasant to nose, but somewhat emasculated by a vague cloying sweetness.
This gentleness was mirrored in the taste and the feel on the palate as well. It was soft, warm, billowy, aromatic. It loved me and wanted to share its feelings. Toffee, slight citrus notes, apples and pears led off, with slowly emerging caramel and almonds following on. The mouthfeel was surprisingly “thick” — that’s the added sugar again — and that lesser alcohol content also made it somewhat (disappointingly) bland. Still, I must concede that the balance of the muskier, smokier, deeper sugar tones with the slightly acidic citrus and faint astringency was rather well done. The finish, which came as no surprise, was short, providing a closing sense of nuts and molasses.
So all in all, an underwhelming product, as I said, perhaps a shade too sweet for some, too damped down for others, even though there is some complexity hiding underneath. People who go in for softer rums, perhaps soleras or liqueurs, would have no problem drinking this one, I think. Those preferring a more aggressive disposition will disagree (I am one of these). I mean, this is touted as a premium rum, and its sexy shape and packaging reflect that, even if its price (around $50 in my location) seems somewhat low. Part of this might be its ageing, which is uncertain – I’ve read claims of components in the blend being of bits and pieces with as little as 4 and as much as 10 years, though the official website makes no statement on the matter at all: so I’d suggest that Barceló may still be tinkering with it and aren’t ready to make a definitive statement…yet.
One characteristic of underproofed products is that you get the taste without the strength; with added sugar you get thickness without complexity; and this is like gorging on white bread, or a cheap hamburger – a few minutes later the taste is gone, you’re hungry again, there’s no buzz in sight, and you’re unfulfilled, wanting more. If that’s what Barceló are trying to do, all I can say is that they’ve succeeded swimmingly, ‘cause that bottle of yours is going to be finished in no time. Still, I wonder what my malt swilling amigos would make of this rum, those gentlemen who inhale aged cask-strength whiskies by the caseload and can barely sniff standard proof drinks without being snooty about it. I think they would probably make similar comments to mine – interesting notes, some delicacy harnessed to artistry in service of a fine sipping dram. But I’m sure they’d also say, sorry Ruminsky, we like you and all, but there’s just not enough buxom in the bodice and backside in the bustle, to make this rum worth lusting after.
- Barceló hails from the Dominican Republic, where it shares the island with the other two “B”s – Bermudez and Brugal. They have been in business since 1930, when Julian Barceló (a Mallorcan emigre) founded the company, and Spain remains one of its primary markets, though they ship rum to some fifty countries these days.
- In September 2022 a comment on the review of the Imperial Premum Blend pointed out that Barcelo makes rums only from cane juice, which an immediate check on the website of the company also confirms. I have therefore changed some of the factual elements of this older review appropriately (although score and tasting notes stay as they were). No idea how that slipped past my original vetting process…however, it’s possible that they used both molasses and cane juice, since Latin countries / ex-Spanish colonies did not have a history or tradition of using juice.
- Note that in 2009 a new Barcelo division, Alcoholes Finos Dominicanos, was established with funds from the EU Rum Sector Programme (the same one that funded Clarendon’s new column still / fermenters and Foursuare’s bottling plant), and built a new industrial distillery the following year, which is processing 100% cane juice. This is now the distillery Barcelo is using to make its rums. It’s possible this older Imperial I tasted in 2013 is from stocks that were made from molasses. The taste and the age of the rum supports that assumption. (See also this 2020 Barcelo company profile on YouTube).