Don’t bash the bat until you’ve given this rum a fair shot. Because it’s damned good.
(#187 / 87/100)
Many – myself among them – believe that one of Bacardi’s more unappreciated rums is the 8-year-old, and I’d argue the Reserva Limitada joins the club…and even dials it up a few notches.
The company may sell more rum than anyone else, has enormous (and heavily criticized) tax breaks and subsidies to keep its costs down, is a global juggernaut of the entry-level rums, but at the upper end of the scale has a real bad rep with rum lovers who just disdain it. So if Bacardi wanted to break into the rarefied realms of stratospherically-priced premium rums lovingly issued by craft bottlers, they did well with this one. And yet, many who taste this rum will express their “surprise,” and how “unexpected” it is. But it shouldn’t be: one can’t be in the rum making business for over a hundred years and not pick up something, right. The real mystery is what took so damned long, and why they can’t do better, more often.
Still, let’s just move away from any preconceptions we might have regarding the brand, and simply address what I tasted that day: a dark amber rum in a standard bottle (I didn’t see a box, but a quick search confirms it comes with one) bottled at — what is now, for me — a mild 40%. (Interestingly enough, while I meant it when I said dark amber, some photographs online suggest a lighter colour, almost honey-like). The nose demonstrated a solid, creamy nose of coconut, some fruit, burnt sugar, even nougat… and a touch of mischief thrown in via a flirt of lemon peel. Some clove and cinnamon danced around there after opening up. It was well done: there was nothing truly exciting or freakishly adventurous about it — it probably wouldn’t be a Bacardi if it exhibited such traits — just above-average quality.
Same for the taste. Soft, smooth, sweet, it was a baby’s drowsy kiss to your palate. It was a really good melange of coconut shavings, banana, almonds, caramel, raisins, honey, some allspice and cinnamon; even some freshly baked bread. Barely any smoke and leather or tannins from the ageing. I’m hoping that they didn’t cram sugar into the thing to smoothen it out – that would be a real shame (yet I can’t rid myself of the thought). The mouthfeel at 40% held to that unwarlike temper to which I had become accustomed in my recent enjoyable battles with full-proofs – gentle and easygoing, almost creamy, with merely a nip of the alcohol bite, far from unpleasant. As for the fade, pretty decent for a milquetoast offering – soft and lasting, with all those rich scents taking their bow before departing.
Bacardi does this so very well: they don’t seek the edge of the envelope, they don’t shoot for the stars, they don’t go off the reservation. They simply, day in and day out, make rums that are a slight cut above the ordinary for their age, type and price point. Okay, the cost for this rum is pushing it for the masses that drink and move the brand by the tankerload, yet it must be conceded that it’s being marketed as a premium rum, and so perhaps a different audience is being sought.
This rum apparently hailed from stocks which were reserved for the founder’s family, and were released rarely – commercial production began in 2003, and one supposedly had to go to Puerto Rico to get any, up until 2010 when it began to be released more widely. Varying online sources mention that the age of the blends comprising the rum is 12-18 years and averaged 16 years (one noted that this average is now 12 years, another said 15) and aged in lightly charred American oak. The 2010 press release noted 10-16 years. I found it enormously irritating that the Bacardi website itself didn’t mention a damned thing about it. What does it say about a marketing strategy in today’s world, that you get the most information from re-sellers, online shops and hobby sites, rather than from the actual manufacturers?
In the end, whatever the background material (or lack of it) says, I think Bacardi’s Reserva Limitada is neither a cult object, nor a brave miss nor even a “flawed masterpiece”. It is, simply, a solidly excellent rum, well made, carefully put together, showing real care and attention — I enjoyed it a lot. And if it is, at 40%, a little to weak for my own personal taste these days, it sure won’t let down legions of its drinkers, who might just be encouraged by this review to pony up the coin which the bottle will cost them – or at least for the cost of a shot in a bar somewhere. In that case, I honestly don’t think they’ll be disappointed.
Bacardi’s strategy mystifies me. The rum is a blend limited to 8,000 bottles per year, which many boutique makers would be proud to issue: and as noted, it’s a very good rum, great for sipping. My question is, why blend it at all? Why not issue an age-specific or even a year-specific rum and ratchet up the advertising to tout its uniqueness? What’s with the anaemic 40% – this thing could easily be a shade stronger and deliver more punch. And then really earn its “premium” cachet.
Update, March 2017 – Interesting how things develop. I looked at this rum again in passing last week as I was comparing a number of others in Berlin. In just three years, it’s sunk in my estimation. Blind, I scored it 78 on this go-around, and it was largely because of my tastes gravitating towards pure pot still rums, and because of the 40%. It’s still a decent rum and beats out the Paraiso…but is left way behind, by all the amazing rums that have emerged since that time when I first tried it.