Barceló has slipped somewhat in our mental map of rum companies to watch, which comes as no surprise to those noting the current dominance which the Big Countries and the Big Names have in defining what we “should” be drinking. But ⅓ of the “Three Bs” of the Domincan Republic has been around for a while, releasing their light Spanish-style rons day in and day out, and if their primary markets are elsewhere than the homes of the online commentariat who flog Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados almost without pause, then at least their level of expertise shows no sign of flagging.
Given I rated the company’s Anejo a rather dismissive 61 in 2011 and shrugged off the previous 38% Imperial edition (not the same as this one) with 78 a couple of years later, that last remark might sound strange. But just because lighter column-still rons released at less-than-living-room-strength don’t turn my crank does not mean I don’t appreciate what they’re trying to do — I just wish they’d read the tea leaves and try harder and go stronger, if you catch my drift.
Here we have a rum (or ron) that ticks all the followingboxes: it’s possibly a cane juice-based spirit — per their website, all their rums are now made from cane juice (likely since 2010 or so) — run through a 5-column still, then aged 10 years in American oak and given a further two years’ ageing (I hesitate to use the word “finishing” for a secondary maturation that long) in French Château d’Yquem barrels. There are no additives according to their blurbs, which must be a recent thing, since it had been tested on initial (2011) release at 27g/L, but ok. When it first came out, the outturn was supposedly some 9,000 bottles annually, but the latest information I was given in 2017 was that it sold so well that this has now been upped to around 20,000.
There’s more details and notes which I’ll go into below, but this is enough to be going on with for the moment, let’s run through the tasting:
Nose first. Well, while conceding its soft warmth and easy languid charm, the truth is there’s not much really going on, nasally speaking: some citrus mixed up with deep caramel and brown sugar, and an intriguing scent of vanilla, charred barrels and burnt sugar and the ashiness of a dying coal fire. Sweet, reasonably robust – better than the sub-40% stuff I’ve had from them before – but lacking real complexity that would enthuse me more.
The palate rewards rather more attention. It’s warm and easy-going on the tongue, texture is nice. Great after-dinner sip to go with the ice cream. It tastes initially of caramel, ripe and mild yellow fruits without any aggro, raisins, prunes, and some faint licorice, ginger and vanilla. The 43% is a welcome boost from the milquetoast nonsense of the 37.5% expression, but in a way also serves to draw attention to its own limitations, because in a rum like this we’re looking for complexity, some punch, and a certain individuality that boosts the mildness of its light-distillate origins – and that simply isn’t here. This is even clearer on the finish, which is soft, quick and puffs away like steam – it provides no additional insight into why you should buy the rum to begin with.
Without completely dissing the Barcelo – I know it is made for an audience who are completely dialled into, and in tune with, its laid-back profile, and they are the ones who provide its core audience and keep sales robust – let me just suggest that like many rums of its ilk, it doesn’t deliver enough. It lacks panache, oomph, a certain force. It teases without coming through, and is too people-pleasing for real risk, too generic for specificity. That’s its downfall for the rum enthusiast, and, paradoxically, its raison d’être for those with more tolerant, inclusive and less exacting standards.
- The Imperial has always been a 10 year old since I first tried it (and as far as I could tell, ever since it was first made back in 1980; but in 2011 Barceló brought together squirrelled-away casks of this 10 YO and matured them a bit further, to create the Imperial Premium Blend, later re-christened the 30 Anniversario, and started slapping the numeral “30” on the central circle of real estate on the bottle. This does not intimate that it is 30 years old, but that it’s the 30th anniversary of the first issue of the Imperial.
- All Barceló rons are made in the Dominican Republic (not in Dominica – the two are separate nations), where the company shares the island with the other two “B”s – Bermudez and Brugal, both of which are older. Barceló Export Import has been in business since 1930, has always been a rum producer, and remains to this day a privately held company run by men who bear the name still. Julian Barceló, the founder, hailed from Spain – the name is actually Catalan, though I read he was from Mallorca himself – and arrived in the DR in 1929. His company soon became a very large and profitable enterprise, expanding his line of products to differing rums starting in 1935. By the 1980s the company became one of the biggest in the country, and expanded its market base by aggressively promoting exports – Spain was and continues to be a prime market for the rums.
- In September 2022 a comment (below) 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 rum, tried in 2017 and 12 years old, is from stocks that were made from molasses. The taste and the age of the rum supports that assumption but it’s unclear from the label. (See also this 2020 Barcelo company profile on YouTube).