Jul 082021
 

After a successful debut in around 2016, the Transcontinental Rum Line, the indie bottler offshoot of La Maison du Whisky in Paris, has faded some from public view, though they continued to release rums as late as 2020). That said, with current distribution in the US and parts of Asia, it may see something of a resurgence with that increased awareness. And that’s a good thing: as with all indies of a diverse portfolio of rums it’s a bit hit or miss, but overall they have done pretty well.

La Maison was formed by Georges Bénitah in 1956, and has had a long history with spiritsparticularly the importation and distribution of rare whiskies. From what I gather, Georges’s son Thierry and Luca Gargano had (and continue to have) a long and amiable relationshipso the eventual joining of forces into the joint venture La Maison & Velier, which now distributes Velier rums in France, was perhaps inevitable. Still, before that happened, LMDW was interested enough in the rising popularity of the indie single-cask rum scene in Europe to branch out on its own, and the TCRL range was launched in 2016 with a mix of various “standard” rums all indies seem to prefer, at either cask or standard strength.

Leaving aside the unoriginal selections from all the usual locations (Fiji and Australia were welcome aberrations, admittedly), what distinguished them right off the bat was their visual imagery and marketing strategy, which was and remains centered around the pictures of the luxury ocean liner which graced their labels, accompanied by old fashioned text font. In the style and the evocation of this era of restrained Edwardian pomp (even if it wasn’t, see other notes, below) one felt a certain genteel sensibility, as one did, for example with the bare and faded yellow labels of Berry Bros. & Rudd.

So, this rum, from Belize. The major distillery of note on Belize is Travellers (Copalli is a new up and comer), which makes the Travellers 1-barrel, 3-barrel and 5-barrel rums for which they are best known, as well as the excellent Don Omario Vintage 15 year old (some backstory for the curious is in the 1-barrel review). This rum dripped off a column still in 2005, and was aged for nine years there before being shipped to Europe for an additional two years ageing, and for whatever reason, they decided to release the two-cask-output of 792 bottles at 46%.

Given the lightness of the profile, that may not have been accidental1, because the rum, even with all that tropical ageing, was soft and warm and pillowlike, completely without the sullen potential for violence displayed by, say, a young pot still Jamaican sporting high proof, dreads and a ‘tude. It presented, I’m afraid, a nose of few surprises: toffee, white chocolate, and some coconut shavings, all very easy and relaxed. A few minutes later it was joined by vanilla, almonds, ice cream and pears, all quite solid, just unassertive and not really trying be overly complicated.

This restrained, lean-back-in-the-berbice-chair simplicity carried over on the tongue as well, and I wish they had beefed it up some, to be honestit gave up tastes of coconut shavings again, caramel, honey, nougat, peaches in syrup, cherries and chocolate oranges, which expanded with some water to introduce a chocolate/coffee vibe that was nice, just not particularly unique in any way. It all moved sedately and quietly into a finish of no real length or strength, which merely repeated these distinct, simple notes, and faded out with warmth and charmth. Yawn.

It’swell, it’s fine. Tasty little rumlet. But a straightforward presentation of such relaxed and quiet tastes is pretty much what I’ve gotten bored with, with Latin-style rons as a whole. There’s not much real fun in the whole thing, little challengethough I fully concede this is a hot-weather rum, to be had when force and striking power is not the objective. By that standard, it’s a very pleasant sundowner sip, and I think the key to enjoying it fully is to pick the right time and place and mood to have it. As it turned out, I had it on a hot July day in Berlin and wasn’t in a mood to play around with its laid-back aw-shucks style, so its charms were unfortunately lost on me.

(#835)(81/100)


Other notes

  • One has to be a little careful about touting the “originality” of the labelling, because the same ship, a reproduction of a painting of the Queen Mary 2, appears on multiple labels and it wasn’t until somewhat laterthe 2020 releases referred to abovethat each bottle got its own ship. The sensory ethos and evocation of a past time embodied in those ships, the style of painting and the labelling font, remained the same, though

  • I particularly appreciate the extra information the back (and now the front) labelthe division of how much time it spent ageing in tropical vs continental climes, the still, and particularly the other bottles in the range (referred to as “lines”, like it was a shipping concern going off to exotic localesone wonder what they would have done of somebody in the marketing department liked trains).

 

Mar 012021
 

Nearly ten years ago, I was rather indifferent to Flor de Cana’s 12 year old rum. It wasn’t as cool as the older expressions like the 18 for sipping, and was outdone by the 7 year old for a more assertive a cocktail. The 12 YO made a decent drinkexcept insofar as I thought it was somewhat unfinished mid range rum which didn’t seem to be either flesh or fowl.

A decade has now passed, and the brand has lost both brownie points and market lustre with consumers. The 2015 Chronic Kidney Disease matter has died down, but the peculiar and more lasting damage of their age statements continues. In fine, the age statement number on the label was phased out after around 2014 (when Wes Burgin first noted it in his middling-scored review) and now just says “7” or “12” or 18” without further clarification. Of course, even then they were touting that silly “slow aged” moniker, which I regarded then and now with the same sort of impatience. What on earth do they think this means, honestly? That the world spins more slowly for this thing?

What this all does mean, and what just about every reviewer on reddit or other fora is at pains to note (when they bother reviewing anything from Flor at all), is that the big number on the label is completely useless, if not outright deceptive. It tells you nothing of consequence, not the age, or whether it is a blend of X rums (unlikely) or whether it’s a link to the past when it was 12 years old.

With that in mind, let’s see what we have: an older 12 year old 40% rum, whose current “12” blend is no longer now what this once was; column still distilled and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. A more standard rum could not be imagined (unless maybe it’s the Appleton 12 YO or Doorly’s 12 YO). The only reasons to try it are curiosity (always), to see if it could be a candidate for the Key Rums list (no), and to see if anything has changed from my original review (yes, but not for the better).

I confess it did not impress now either. The nose started out medicinal and a bit sharp. It’s predominant characteristic was dark prunes and viscous molasses, honey, overripe cherries, a tang of salt and olives. The ageing showed up via a trace of vanilla and tannins, whose aromas stayed mostly in the background, but overall, not a particularly expressive or impressive nose.

The rum tasted mostly of caramel, treacle and molasses. There was a trace of nuttiness and honey, a few dark and ripe fruits, nothing particularly sharp or tart. Black olives, some brown sugar. It felt like something of a soft blanket, lacking the sharper notes of a citrus element that would have make a stronger statement and balanced things off more nicely. With some strain and patience, a touch of orange peel and unsweetened chocolate was discernible at the tail end leading into the short, dry finish, just insufficient to make a difference to the overall profile. Not something that made it any more memorable, however.

For my money, the 12 YO remains something of a middling work in progress, once leading to the better 18 Year Old (now the “18”) of the supposedly even more upscale “Luxury” expressions (this one is referred to as an “Ultra Premium” in its current iteration). I don’t think it merits anything near those kinds of descriptionsbased on tastes alone, it encourages words like “capable,” “decent” and “mid range” but “Premium”? No chance.

To me, it comes down to that that big number 12 on the label: without any qualifiers or explanations, it is a sign of not just shoddy marketing and the peacock-like display of a double-digit (if not an outright attempt to mislead buyers), but of a lack of faith in their own product. I have no particular issues with Flor de Cana as a wholeI admire what they’ve managed to accomplish to recover their reputationbut this rum is just not worthy, at this stage, of being included in the pantheon. It’s too simple, too ambiguous, and it excites mostly a kind of indifference. Ten years ago it was the sort of rum I’d drink when I just wanted to get hammered, and in that sense, it’s exactly the same now

(#805)(78/100)


Other notes

  • In a time of true-aged cask-strength full-proofs as part of several primary producers’ ranges, I wonder why they insist on keeping this old work horse and not rebrand it as a true 12 year old, and/or goose the proof a bit? For that matter, why not issue a complete range of high-octane full proofs? To stick with the advertising of yesteryear at a time when the world has already changed so much strikes me as odd, to say the least. Perhaps, like DDL, they regard that kind of thing as a loss-leading indulgence of the independent bottlers, not something they really care about themselves.
  • Both TWE and MoM keep on naming their entries for the rum as if it were a true-aged rum, when the label clearly says nothing of the kind.
Nov 142019
 

Three years ago I tried and later wrote a review of the 8-year-solera Cihuatán rum from El Salvador (bottled at 40%), and noted rather disappointedly that “this was a remarkably quiet rum.” Essentially, I regarded it with some indifference. At the time, Paul Senft of Rum Journey and I were trading notes and he told me they had a 12 year solera variation slated to be released, and Cihuatán themselves told me they were working on some more limited editions of their own.

Well, I moved on, liking but not completely won over by the brand at that point, and while I never did source the 12 year solera, I kept a weather eye open for anything they made that might pop up in years to come. Then in 2019, I caught wind of the special Nikté limited releasethough one would perhaps be forgiven for asking what is so terribly limited about 17,914 bottlesand resolved to try it for a number of reasons. One, it was a follow-up to the 2017 review to satisfy my own curiosity; two, it was made by a maestra ronera, Gabriela Ayala, and that deserves respect and more than just a passing acknowledgement; three, it was issued at north of standard, stronger than the usual Latin rums I’ve tried in the past made by primary producers; and four, I just wanted to see if it really was special. Marketing works on impressionable young minds like mine.

The name of the rum (or ron, if you will) relates back to the Mayan motif that has been part of the brand from the inception: Cihuatán comes from the name of an ancient Mayan settlement that once existed very close to where the distillery is currently located. It translates into “next to the woman”, referring to a mountain nearby which looks like a sleeping woman in silhouette. The original glyph on the label (Tlaloc, the Mayan god of water) has been replaced by the moon goddess (Ix Chel), and a feminine version of the flower known as Sac Nicté in Nahuat (“sac” means white) as her stylized floral twin, all in homage to Kay Nikté, the Mayan festival of flowers. And I have to concede, that’s one really pretty label, colourful and well laid outif the intention was to get me to see it on a shelf and stop, stare and maybe buy it, yeah, they succeeded pretty well there.

Based on its tasting, however, the case of unquestioning purchase is harder to make for those who have been part of the rum renaissance over the last ten years, and who prefer something more powerful and distinct (although not for those for whom it was made, perhaps). The ron is decidedly Spanish/Latin in style and influence and the strength — 47.5%, unusual for a rum from Central Americaonly marginally raised it in my estimation. Consider first the noseit was quite sweet, with scents of marshmallows, caramel, vanilla, ice cream and flowers (really light jasmine), and the warmth and depth of a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. What it was, was soft, and easygoingquite an achievement for a rum dialled-up as this was. I had expected something a bit fiercer, but no

Anyway, the taste was firm, but the soft easiness did not go away and to some extent that lessened the experience for me. It presented little in the way of aggression and was like chomping down on a freshly laundered feather pillowthere were sweet floral notes (jasmine again), the crisp smell of laundry detergent, delicate spicesdill, nutmegsome lemon zest, cumin, tempered and somewhat eclipsed by heavier flavours of butterscotch, toffee, bitter chocolate and caramel, ending with the soft exhaling sigh of a finish that didn’t give much more, mostly caramel, nutmeg, sweet delicate flowers and a touch of light white fruits.

Overall, this rum is a soft sipper’s dream, but won’t do much for a hogo-lover or wooden-still worshipper. I’ve been warned by many in the past not to decry rums made for palates different my own, so I’ll simply make note of the matter and leave you to make up your own mind. Personally, I think it’s better than the 8 year solera, and has more going on in its jock, but remains too soft and even too sweet and even the strength can’t entirely make up for that. Yet kudos have to be given for taking the brand in these directions to begin withfor anyone who likes the soporific, relaxed charms of the Spanish style rons, this is a step up the ladder that is a few orders more interesting, more complex and plain out better than its 8 year solera counterpart.

(#675)(80/100)


Other notes

  • The Nikte is a blend of rums uniting 12 and 14 year old rums aged in ex-bourbon casks with a 15 year old rum aged in first-fill american oak barrels. Cihuatan confirmed later that all components were true aged, not solera, and later told Ivar de Laat of Rum Revelations that it was also a cane juice/molasses rum blend.
  • Made by Licorera Cihuatan, a subsidiary of Ingenio La Cabaña, one of the larger sugar concerns in the country (established in around 1920). It is a diversified company located north of San Salvador, and its main business is based on a sugar cane plantation, a sugar mill and a modern alcohol plant (built in 1999) with a multi-column still that produces various alcohols and liqueurs for both the leisure and industrial market. Sometime in the early 2000s the company initiated their own brand, consulting with Luis Ayala (publisher of Got Rum? magazine) in the process. They began releasing the Cihuatán brand in 2015 and have added to its brand portfolio ever since. There are currently five rums in the portfolio, two stated soleras (8 and 12), an aged rum “Obsidian” and two special editions, the Nikte and the Nahual which are aged blends.
Jan 282019
 

Speaking in general terms, my personal drift away from Latin- or South American rums over the last few years derives from the feeling that they’re a little too laid back, and lack pizzazz. They’re not bad, just placid and easy going and gentle, and when you add to that the disclosure issues, you can perhaps understand why I’ve moved on to more interesting profiles.

Far too many producers from the region do too much unadventurous blending (Canalero), don’t actually have a true solera in play (Dictador), have a thing for light column still products which may or may not be tarted up (Panama Red), and are resting on the laurels of old houses and family recipes (Maya) whose provenance can hardly be established beyond a shadow of doubt (Mombacho or Hechicera). Moreover, there is too often a puzzling lack of easily-available background regarding such rums (more than just marketing materials) which is out of step with the times.

Still, I have to be careful to not paint with too wide a brushthere are many good rums from the region and I’m not displeased with all of them. In a curious turnabout, my favourites are not always released by from or by Latin American companiesat least, not directlybut by independents who take the original distillate from a broker and then release it as is. This avoids some of the pitfalls of indeterminate blending, additives, dilution and source, because you can pretty much count on a small indie outfit to tell you everything they themselves know about what they stuffed into their bottle.

That’s not to say that in this case the Compagnie is a poster child for such disclosurethe distillery on this one is noted as being “Secret”, for example. But I suspect that Florent was a bit tongue in cheek here, since any reasonably knowledgeable anorak can surmise that the 11 YO rum being reviewed here is a Flor de Cana distillate, column still, and aged in Europe.

Compared to the Mombacho 1989 that was being tried alongside it (and about which I still know too little), the nose was much more interestingperhaps this was because the Compagnie didn’t mess around with a soft 43%, but went full bore at 69.1% for their favoured clients, the Danes (this rum is for the Danish market). Yet for all the strength, it presented as almost delicatelight, fruity (pears, guavas, watermelon., papaya), with a nice citrus tang running through it. When it opened up some more, I also smelled apples, pears, honey, cherries in syrup, and a pleasant deeper scent of aromatic tobacco, oak and smoke, and a touch of vanilla at the back end.

The palate was also very robust (to say the least). It was sharp, but not rawsome of the rougher edges had been toned down somewhatand gave off rich tastes of honey, stewed apples, more sweet tobacco and smoke, all of it dripping with vanilla. Those light fruits evident on the nose were somewhat overpowered by the strength, yet one could still pick out some cherries and peaches and apples, leading into a very long and highly enjoyable finish with closing notes of gherkins, brine, cereals, vanilla, and a last flirt of light sweet fruits.

Perhaps it was a mistake to try that supposed 19 YO Mombacho together with this independent offering from France. On the face of it they’re similar, both from Nicaragua and both aged a fair bitbut it’s in the details (and the sampling) that the differences snap more clearly into focus, and show how the independents deserve, and are given, quite a bit more trust than some low-key company which is long on hyperbole and short on actual facts.

As noted above, neither company says from which distillery its rums hail, though of course I’m sure they’re Flor de Cana products, both of them. We don’t know where Mombacho ages its barrels; CDI can safely be assumed to be Europe. The CDI is stronger, is more intense and simply tastes better, versus the much softer and easier (therefore relatively unchallenging) Mombacho, even if it lacks the latter’s finish in armagnac casks. Beyond that, we get rather more from the Compagniebarrel number, date of distillation and bottling, true age, plus a little extrathe faith, built up over many years of limited bottlings, that we’re getting what they tell us we are, and the confidence that it’s true. That alone allowed me to relax and enjoy the rum much more than might otherwise have been the case.

(#593)(84.5/100)


Other notes

  • Controls this time around were the aforementioned Mombacho, the Black Adder 12YO, and another Nicaraguan from CDI, aged for seventeen years. I dipped in and out of the sample cabinet for the comparators mentioned in the first paragraphnot to re-evaluate them, just to get a sense of their profiles as opposed to this one.
  • Distilled December 2004, bottled April 2016, 242 bottle-outturn
  • We should not read too much into the “Secret” appellation for the rum’s source. Sometimes, companies have a clause in their bulk rum sales contracts that forbids a third party re-bottler (i.e., an independent) from mentioning the distillery of origin.
Apr 292018
 

Rumaniacs Review #076 | 0506

Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, now owned by Diageo, has been a poster boy for adulteration, over-sweetness and confusing (misleading?) labels for the entire time I’ve been reviewing rums. The current late-2010s edition of the Centenario 23 (first introduced in 1976 and now dropping theAños”) is still a crowd favouritebut here we have an older vintage, back when the wrapped bottle was still in vogue (Rum Nation copied it for the Millonario 15 when Zacapa discontinued it some years ago)…and if scuttlebutt is to be believed, this thing really is 23 years old, before they started solera-izing it in the current iterations. But about that I have my doubtsI respectfully submit it was always a solera, and it’s just that as everyone found out about it the label had to be changed.

ColourAmber

Strength – 40%

NoseQuite thick and rich, redolent of brown sugar, chocolate, molasses and coffee. Not overly complex, little in the way of additional flavours, except for some toblerone, vanilla, cinnamon and honey. Some sherry and vague fruity notes.

PalateSoft, very easy, almost no bite at allI’d call it unadventurous. Walnuts and raisins mixing it up with chocolate and toffee with a little alcohol. A faint bitterness of black tea, some honey, vanilla, a few raisins, brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon….overall, not so much tamed as simply easy, no effort required. However, note that it’s not as sweet as the current versions available on the market, just sweet enough to be noticeable.

FinishShort warm and smooth, mostly caramel, a little (very little) fruit, coffee and liqueur. Gone in a heartbeat, leaving not even a smile behind.

ThoughtsI can see why it remains a crowd pleaser, but the decision to stop with this blend and go with themodernZacapas now on sale was (in my opinion) a mistake. This slightly older version of the rum is marginally better, has at least some character and isn’t destroyed by additives or sweet quite as badly. Even so, it remains a rum to appeal to the many rather than the few, and all it remains for the dedicated is a pleasant after-dinner digestif as opposed to something to place on the top shelf.

(75/100)

 

Oct 252017
 

#396

Since 2013 when I first wrote about the A.D. Rattray Panama rum from Don Jose, the lack of any real effort by Panamanian rum makers like Origines or Varela Hermanos (among others) to go full proof, issue single barrel, well-aged, or year-vintage bottlings has made me lose a lot of my initial appreciation for that country’s rums and I don’t seek them out with the enthusiasm of previous years. There’s just too much mystery and obfuscation going on with Panamanian distillate, and other rums which crossed my path more recently, like the Malecon 1979, Canalero, and Ron Maja were relative disappointments.

That leaves the independents to carry the flag and showcase some potential, and there aren’t many of those, compared to the tanker-loads of juice coming to the market from Jamaica, Guyana or Barbados. One of the last I tried was Dirk Becker’s Rum Club Private Selection Panamanian 15 year old issued in 2016 (it hailed from Don Pancho’s PILSA facilities), which I thought gave the country’s rums a much needed shot in the arm and showed that a rum aged for fifteen years and bottled north of 50% was a really good product. That same year I tried this one: Christian Nagel’s 11 year old rum which was sourced from Varela Hermanos (home of Abuelo), distilled on a column still in May 2004, aged in Panama and then bottled at 52.7% in Germany in June 2015 — and came with an outturn of a measly 247 bottles.

Like Rum Club’s offering, it wasn’t bad, being a solidly built piece of work, light in the manner of the Panamanians generally, the strength adding more intensity to the profile. There was a clear sort of white wine fruitiness on the nosepineapples, pears, some tartness, a little caramelwound around with a thread of citrus, all in a very good balance. To call it “easy” might be to undersell itit edged towards the crispness of a dry Riesling without ever stepping over and that made it a very good experience to smell.

There’s nothing to whinge about the palate: it started out with the big players of lemon peel, caramel, and vanilla, with some spiciness of oak well under control. It feels and tastes a mite heavy, somewhat sweet, which suggesting some dosinghowever, I was unable to confirm this, and neither was the bottler, Christian Nagel, who was emphatic that he himself had added nothing and expressed his frustration to me at his inability to find an unmessed-with rum from Panama, or a rum where the chain of production-evidence is clear and unambiguous. The finish was short and a little sweet, with crisp fruitiness, more lemon peel, pears, and cherries, all very low key and over quickly.

Christian Nagel, who founded Our Rum & Spirits, is not exactly an independent bottler in the normal sense of the word (or, he didn’t start out that way back in 2014 when he bottled his first one), because the rum business is, for him, a sideshow to his restaurant which serves rums as part of the menu. Yet he keeps cropping up at the Berlin Rumfest, and has multiple bottlings from Guyana, Barbados, Panama and Jamaica, and in 2017 carted off a few medals to add to his stash and burnish his reputation as someone who knows how to pick his casks….so my opinion is that he’s becoming more of a bottler than he started out as, which is good for all of us.

Overall, the rum presented as perfectly serviceable, very drinkable, but I felt it lacked originality and real top-notch quality. Certainly cask strength Panamanian rums like this one are a step above the wussy forty percenters which corner the market in North America, because by being that way they are more assertive, and allow smells and tastes to be more clearly defined and appreciated. So they are, overall, somewhat better. Still, when it comes right down to it they continue to lackwell, adventure, character. A particular kind of oomph. I always get the impression the distillers are stuck in the fifties, when light Spanish column-still distillate was the rum profile du jour. When one considers the rip-snorting island products coming off the estates these days, the mad-scientist ester-squirting power bombs that get issued, each racing to see which can be more original, Panamanians just fizzle. This one is better than most, but it still doesn’t entirely make me rush to go out and buy a whole raft more.

(84.5/100)

Aug 312017
 

#385

Perhaps it would be better to start with the straightforward tasting, lest my snark bend your mind were I to lead in with the commentary instead of finishing with it. The Mombacho 1989 Central American rum does, admittedly, boast and flourish some impressive chops on the label: 19 year old rum (1989-2008), finishing for the final two years in armagnac casks, reasonable strength of 43% (I said ‘reasonable’, not ‘outstanding’). Looking at other bottles of their range it seems within the bounds of reason to assume it’s from Nicaragua, though the ‘Central American’ noted on the label might suggest a blending with other rums from the region.

The nose is quite good for something I feared would be rather thin: unsweetened chocolate and coffee, some dark fruitnothing as deep and brooding as a good Demerara, mind, but nevertheless, there’s a kind of muskiness to the aromas that worked well. Baked apples and a sort of cereal background, something like nice blueberry tartI assume that was the armagnac finish lending its influencewith an ashy background to the whole thing.

Tastewise, also nothing to sneeze at, with a rich red wine taking the lead, plus prunes, apricots, stewed apples and burnt sugar. In its own way, it felt a little over-rich so maybe something was added? I tried it in conjunction with the Compagnie des Indes 17 year old and the Blackadder Raw Cask 12 year old (both from Nicaragua) and it is in the comparison that I got the impression that either it was doctored a mite, or the finishing was simply too dominant. With water additional flavours of honey, vanilla, cereal and tobacco could be discerned, plus licorice and some oakiness, and overall it had a nice rounded feel to it. Even the finish had that balanced quality to it, though quite shortcherries, peaches, prunes, anise, gone too quickly.

It was said to be the best rum in the world in 2008, but I’ll tell you frankly, when I read that I just smiled, shrugged and moved onit was good, but not that good. Not bottom shelf by any meansand not top shelf either. Let’s put it somewhere in the middle.

(83/100)


Opinion (you can ignore this section)

So what to make of a rum that is purported to be nineteen years old, yet whose provenance is shrouded in mystery? Mombacho is a rum brand which has a website and a Facebook page (among others) that are masterpieces of uninformative marketing. About all you get from these sources (and others) is the following:

  • They issue aged bourbon-barrel-aged expressions with fancy finishes
  • This rum is named after a volcano in Nicaragua
  • It’s distributed in Europe by an Italian company named F&G SRL out of Torino.
  • There used to be a moonshine distillery on the slopes of that volcano (the whole area is now a nature preserve) selling a rum called Mombachito
  • The rums in the brand’s lineup are variously aged from 8 to 21 years.
  • Some of the rums from Mombacho are called “Nicaraguan” and others “Central American”.

My personal assumptions are as follows: I believe this is a Flor de Cana based rum. The taste profile, and the absence of any concrete contact info of the producing distillery, if there is one, points to this (some online webpages speak to a distillery, never named, never located). I think it has been bought aged as is from FdC (they laid in a lot of stock in the 1980s as a hedge against hyperinflation and political problems, so the assumption is reasonable), and the rebottler/blender, whoever they are, aged it a further while in the armagnac casks for the finish. Some blending of barrels is highly likely, because any limited outturn would have the number of issued bottles proudly displayed as well.

Everything else I found in my research is glitzy pictures and self-promoting blah of zero interest to the diligent, curious rumhound. Even on the large Facebook rum clubs where an occasional mention can be found, about all you’re walking away with is that some people got one of the rums from the brand, but without details or facts of any kind on the brand itself. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an informational black hole

This enormous lack of background material does not make me a happy camper. I can’t trust a company which has no information behind it, therefore I can’t trust the provenance, so I can’t trust the age, it throws suspicions onto the entire label, and with all these doubts, it inevitably leads to suspicions that the price I paid (€120) was excessive for what was on show. I honestly don’t care if the makers are marketing tyros or business neophytes or freshie rum dilettantesmore should have been provided, even back in 2008.

This is where honesty in labelling becomes so very important. If this was a thirty-dollar rum, I would not worry overmuch about it, but for three figures it begs some questions. And when none of this is readily available, it devalues every other statement made in the marketing literature, or the bottle label itself. If anything positive emerges from this tirade, it is that it shows what is demanded in 2017 for any rum on the market nowadays. I doubt a new entrant to the field could get away with what Mombacho did nearly ten years ago, and the 28 year old Panamanian Arome may be the proof.

So yes, it’s a decent rum, and no, I wouldn’t buy it again. Not because it doesn’t have some quality, but because I rarely spend that kind of money more than once on a no-name brand with little but air behind it.

Other notes

I sent out a note to many of my rum swilling friends….none of them could tell me anything about the company. Mombacho’s FB page has so far declined to respond to my message asking for further info, an the mombacho.eu website was similarly unhelpful. But, if I do get some feedback, I’ll update this post.

Apr 102017
 

#355

Back in 2015 I wrote about the Ron Maja 12 year old rum which purported to be from El Salvador based on the place of origin of the family behind it, but really wasn’t when one considered the location of the production process. Here’s another one from that country, which earns its geographical appellation somewhat more, though overall, there isn’t much more to it than its cousin.

The dark gold Cihuatán is a molasses-based 40% Salvadorean rum aged in white oak ex-bourbon barrels, with the base distillate going into the 5-layer solera system in 2004 for eight years – that does not make it an eight year old rum, of course, just a rum with components up to eight years old inside it. It is made by Licorera Cihuatan, itself a subsidiary of Ingenio La Cabaña, one of the larger sugar concerns in the country (it was established in around 1920). It is a diversified company located north of San Salvador, and its main business is based on a sugar cane plantation, a sugar mill and a modern alcohol plant (built in 1999) with a multi-column still that produces various alcohols and liqueurs for both the leisure and industrial market. Sometime in the early 2000s the company wanted to ride the wave of rum’s resurgence as a premium drink and initiated their own brand, consulting with Luis Ayala (publisher of Got Rum? magazine) in the process. What came out the other end and hit the shelves in 2015 — mostly locally and in Europewas this rum, which adheres to all the markers of a mid-tier solera without trying to reinvent the wheel.

I’m not making a case for there to be something fantastically original about any new rum to hit the market, of course, and one cannot expect that from a solera in any case. Yet even by those standards, this was a remarkably quiet rum. There were no out-of-left-field smells emanating from the glass after the initial pour. No arrogant or aggressive fumes of pungency and power. No cask-strength olfactory bruising, simply a warm nose redolent of cherries, plums, some light florals, a touch of leather and somewhat of an excess of vanilla; plus, after some minutes, some oaken tannins. Nothing to write home about – rather simple, actually.

That impression continued with the taste, mild and pleasant though it was – initially it was simply too sweet, and the vanilla was too much in the forefront. Some cocoa powder, coffee grounds stayed in the background, leaving the vanilla to duke it out with cherries and more plums, sugar cane sap and a touch of citrus, however indistinct it might have been. As I’ve remarked on several soleras before now, they tend to be more sweet than the norm, and much lighter, though with a good one there’s always some edge to the experience, with sharper citrus and fruity notes that ameliorate the saccharine. Here this was not the case, and even with water not much more could be picked it out, and so it all led to a soft and warm exit, with some floral notes rejoining the vanilla party.

All right, so I appreciate that it’s a solera (with all that this implies) and it may have some eight year old in it, and it may be part of the revival of rum production in the country (a laudable effort, as I remarked in a comment on the Maja). But for me it needs some more work. Vanilla too much, sweet could be toned down, the overall gentleness could maybe be tarted up a touch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine and easy rum with a decent, if uncomplicated palate – it reminds me of the Travellers rums, or Panamanians in general, or of a low rent Panamonte. Which might be why it didn’t make any kind of worldwide splash outside the festival and awards circuit.

In the first three years or so of reviewing rums, I started out with the commonly available, easygoing forty percent rums, which included quite a few soleras, and back then I liked them quite a bit. Nowadays I think they’re good for lovers of easier fare (or of Spanish style rons) who either can’t get or simply don’t like rums of cask strength aggressiveness. On that basis, this one works fine…if without flair. If you want a relaxing drink to have around a campfire somewhere, or to unwind after a bad day at the office, a soft, relatively uncomplex rum like this would be just right. That may be why – much like with the MajaI’ll take one if offered, but would prefer to save my dinero for its slightly older cousin, the 12 year solera when it comes out.

(77/100)


Other notes

  • The title Cihuatán comes from the name of an ancient Mayan settlementit’s an archaeological site nowthat once existed very close to where the distillery is currently located. It translates into “next to the woman”, referring to a mountain nearby which looks like a sleeping woman in silhouette
  • The glyph on the label represents Tlaloc, the Mayan god of water
  • The 12 year solera variation, if also made from the 2004 distillate, should be widely available from 2017. My fellow rum chum Paul Senft of RumJourney told me that is is currently available in the USA and the company later confirmed that it is for sale in Europe and El Salvador as well.
  • After I sent some inquiries their way, Cihuatán responded with the following notes: small quantities of brown sugar from their mill are added to the batches in order to maintain consistency on an as-required basis (not as part of a deliberate sweetening strategy); multi-column still, not single as I had originally written (post updated for this fact); and they are working on limited single-barrel editions to be issued in the future.
Oct 042016
 

travellers-3-barrel-2

A light, easygoing, tasty three year old that’s better than average.

#309

Located in Belmopan (capital of Belize), Travellers is a distillery which traces its origins to 1953 when Master Blender Senor Omario Jaime Pedomo opened a bar he named Traveller’s as a nod to the rum sales made to people travelling to and from Belize City. The company currently uses molasses with natural fermentation (both source of the former and duration of the latter are unknown to me at this time) and double distills the result in a triple column continuous still, for a supposedly smoother, lighter taste. Like many other likker outfits that are big in their own country (DDL comes to mind) they also produces liqueurs, brandies, gins, wines, and vodka, mostly for the local market.

Given that I enjoyed the other rums made by them, it’s odd how long this Belizean hooch escaped my grubby little paws and maybe says something for my purchasing priorities, or where I’ve been buying. It’s the mid-range companion to the quite interesting 1-Barrel and 5-Barrel expressions (the numbers refer to the years of ageing), which may not have scored in the stratosphere, but were tasty, workmanlike rums by any standard. If I had to stratify them, I’d say they were a kind of mix of the softer Bajan and Spanish styles, but that’s just me.

travellers-3-barrel-1The 3 barrel also evinces a peculiarity of the Traveller’s design philosophyevery one of their three products sports a different label, this one with that “parrot” moniker on it which was absent in the other two, and the five even went with a different bottle shape entirely. It doesn’t really matter, not does it impact my enjoyment, it’s just a curious divergence from the norm of consistency, and I wonder whether it’s deliberate.

Anyway, moving right along: a light orange-gold rum aged three years, distilled at 40% for the North American market (I’ve not seen any Europeans review it, which suggests it’s either attracting zero attention there or simply not available). A quick sharp jab of turpentine and wax flared briefly on the nose, and then was gone, followed by wood, sawdust, salted caramel, Haagen-Dasz toffee ice cream and vanilla. Only barely could some light fruity notes be discerned, maybe cherries, maybe apricotsin either case they were overripe. It was an interesting smell, overall, especially in how it developed, but admittedly somewhat schizophrenic between sweet and salt and fruity.

The rum was medium bodied in the mouth, a little sharp, because the ageing had been brief enough to just take some of the edges off a rawer, more jagged profile, not all. In a peculiar reversal of the way flavours usually develop, it started off with large, dominant flavours of butterscotch, caramel, crushed walnuts and toffee, plus a minor key of cinnamon, apricots and faint citrus, maybe orange peeland crushed apples bleeding juice before being made into cider. The finish was perhaps the oddest part of my experience with this rumit was short and the initial smells that I noted did an Alcatraz at the beginning, were back here: wax, paraffin, some turpentine and furniture polish, as well as sweeter, shyer notes of fruits, more caramel, more butterscotchthere really was too much of this.

On balance, the Parrot 3 Barrel showcased rather more potential than actuality. Digging out my initial tasting notes for the 1 and 5 barrel, it’s clear this falls right in the middle, the tastes of the former being tamed a little and being more developed, while not quite at the level of the latter. Something about the overall dominance of the toffee and caramel and vanillas was vaguely off-putting, and didn’t allow the subtler flavours to come through as well as they might have.

So although it’s a well made drink, I think it’s a bit of a yawn-throughstill not in the ballpark of either the 5-Barrel or the Don Omario’s 15 year old, and yet lacking the 1-Barrel’s unashamed, almost joyous assertiveness and youth. Like a middle child not knowing which one of the siblings to hang out with, this rum uneasily tries to bridge the divide while balancing precariously in the centre. That it succeeds at all (and it does, more or less) and provides an enjoyable experience, is quite a feat under such circumstances

(81/100)

 

Sep 222016
 

botran-75-1

The best of the Botrans, deservedly so. But it could have been better.

#305

***

Botran’s top-of-the-line Special Edition is so soft it makes a feather pillow feel like it’s stuffed with discarded syringes. In comparison, the skin on a baby’s bum is rough as the glass shards on the wall around the house of a banana republic’s paranoid dictator. Yet it’s issued at a mere 40%, and that it has more qualities than defects is to its everlasting credit and our relief, for soleras do not often get much huzzah from hardcore rum fans, who prefer to have rums with rock-hard washingboard abs, massive glutes, melon shaped biceps, and both the syringes and the shards thrown in.

botran-75-004Over and above the notes on soleras and the Botran company which I covered in the 15 year, 18 year and Blanca reviews, here are the facts on this one. 9972 bottles of the rum were issued, and it it is a blend comprising rums five to thirty years old, with the average age of about tenall aged in casks of bourbon, burned bourbon, sherry and porto, with the last six months of ageing spent in white wine casks. The 75th Anniversary reflects its issue in 2014 (one website says 2015*) to mark the birth of the company as a rum maker in 1939 when Botran was formed by los cinco hermanos.

That it is deserving of the “Special” moniker is something of an opinion. For the makers, given their heritage and amount of time they spent making it, sure; for solera lovers of the sweet light rums, check. As a reviewer who judges on taste, I’d have to sayyesas wellbut those who are thinking of shelling out €160 might pause a little (that gets the buyer a presentation quality box containing a 50cl bottle, a pipette and two additional sample bottles filled with citrus and spicy variations of the rum so they can go off and make comparisons of their own, for whatever reason). For that price, we have to ask whether a 40% solera is worth it, and that comes down to more than just the tasting notes which follow.

What was evident on the nose of the rum was some of the real complexity the previous iterations aspired to but didn’t achieve: it was deep, reassuring, calm, and quiet, in no hurry to give up its secrets. Gradually, warm scents of caramel, dark chocolate and (quite a bit of) molasses sauntered out and stayed there. Over some minutes additional notes of apricots, peaches and red currants joined in, with a background of treacle, and syrup on the Little Caner’s Saturday morning pancakes. There were enough breakfast spices in evidence to make me wonder why bother providing even more in the sample bottles, but they were muted and ancillary, not dominant, though some vanilla hints crept through at the end.

The taste was equally warm and full at the inception, complex enough to satisfy, but perhaps too mellow and sweetthat 40% strength did it no favours (what is it about so many rum producers that even for something so special, they obstinately refuse to go stronger?). Prunes and black grapes, bitter black chocolate, licorice, more syrup. Caramel, burnt sugar, charred wood, coffee and molasses, firm and decisive in their own way, to which eventually were added honey and nuts, maybe a flirt of citrus. The flavours do make strong individual statements, like a proverbial snooty waiter slamming a meal down in front of you, and they are goodbut they do not geometrically improve (in line with the price differential) what could have been a magnificent creation of the blender’s art, had they boosted the amperes a mite. That sank the finish for me, which was very warm, very smooth and which can’t be faulted except to note it was too short and displayed nothing new, which blocks me from waxing ecstatic, rhapsodic and metaphoric about the thing.

botran-75-2For all the scorn often heaped on soleras, which unfairly damages the rep of many others of the same type, I think Botran makes pretty decent rums. By officially eschewing additives (there’s some dispute about that) and utilizing barrel selection strategies that work with port, sherry or bourbon influences, they have produced what I think are some of the best solera rums around, not excluding the Cartavio XO**. Sure they’re too soft and mild for me as a whole when ranked against more intense, masterful indie bottlings, but for a 40% rum to impress me at all these days does require a little bit more than just slick marketing.

So there’s is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the better soleras out there, and of the four Botrans I’ve tried, it is the best. You could haggle over the 15 and the 1893, which were roughly comparable, but this one is a step or two ahead of them bothand whether it is worth the price, when so many other good rums compete for your attention at less than half the cost of this package, will have to be a decision you must make on your own.

(86/100)


Other Notes

* The spiritsbusiness website said it was issued in September 2015, which conflicts with the 75th Anniversary dating of the company formation in 1939.

** Yes, I know I scored the Cartavio XO at 88 points. That was four years ago. Were I to try it again, it would likely come down to this one’s level (and in the future both might sink yet lower as I keep trying more and more rums). My malty friends patronizingly remark this is called the “evolution” and “development” of taste, and hasten to assure me that one I day I will join them in appreciating whisky. Sure guys.

 

Sep 222016
 

botran-18-1

For the bucks, you get a soft bang.

#304

***

There are two more Guatemalan Botrans I have notes for, and perhaps see if we can find points of commonality or differences among the set, so let’s get them out of the way, rather than go somewhere else this week. I wrote that the blanca was an interesting if ultimately uninspiring white, while the solera 15 wasn’t bad for what it was, and had a few tastes that were worthy of note. The 1893 Solera 18 is a step up the ladder of the brandalso 40% ABV, column still product, charcoal filtered, a blend of rums between five and eighteen years old, which were variously aged in bourbon, sherry port barrels. It’s a solera through and through.

For those coming new to soleras in general and the Botrans in particular, a brief recap: soleras are a specialized form of blending hearkening back from Spain, where it is used to this day for ageing sherry; the system is one where a rum is progressively aged, and mixed with younger rums of the same kind at periodic intervals in a series. Every year (or other interval) one barrel is partly decanted into another barrel that was an earlier version of the same rum (but is now older), and the now (partly) decanted refilled with newer spirit. The average age of the rum which is finally bottled is therefore an exercise in mathematics, based on the percentage decanted, and the interval. This is why any bottle marked “solera” should always be assessed cautiously when looking at the numerical “years” or “años” so prominent on the label, since this is whatever (miniscule) portion of the blend that is the oldestand can be very small indeed.

botran-18-2One reason for the style’s longevity and popularity is that the resultant spirit is quite smooth and somewhat sweet (Botran states it adds nothing to their rums) – and they are rarely bottled above 40% – so that makes them extremely easy sipping rums, as the Zacapa 23 and Dictadors and Santa Teresas have proved. Does that make them bad rums? Not at all, because the nose on this bronze coloured rum was a delectable mixture of caramel and burnt sugar, dry and clean, somewhat at odds with the meaty fullness of the Solera 15, though not precisely delicate. There were some baking spices and nuttiness in evidence, with a coil of rather bitter oakiness lurking in the background but whichthankfullynever came forward to elbow all the other scents out of the way. So it was good that way, for sure.

To taste, well, it was more or less what I expected from the line, not so much a revolution as a genteel, polite evolutionslightly deeper, richer, and lacking those mineral ashy notes. Caramel, molasses and dark unsweetened chocolate led off, followed by prunes, pears, some butterscotch and toffee, plus breakfast spices, vanilla and smokiness. But very little of the tart fruitiness that might have elevated it a bit, too little citrus or sharper stinginess to cut the heavier, muskier tastesat most I was getting some fried bananas done over a smoky fire. It finished with a medium long, dry, pleasant fade redolent of toffee and nougat and maybe some creme brulee. Nice, tasty, soft, smoothbut not world beating. It lacked the originality for that.

For a rum that was marginally older than the 15 (in average terms), I felt the complexity wasn’t all that hot and indeed, fell behind the “younger” one in a few areas. Sometimes, when you taste a rum you get a mental sense of time and place (Clement XO was like that for me), but if Botran was trying to make you feel you were up in them thar montañas, I think they miscalculated, because I didn’t get clean, crisp scents at allwhat I really felt was that I was in a disused, windowless kitchen where the spice jars had been left open too long. That’s not enough to make for a disqualification, but it does make it less value for money than the 15. Though it is, very slightly, better.

(84.5/100)


Other notes:

Botran kindly responded to my query about the name of the rum. The meaning of “1893” relates to the year that the first of the Botran brothers, Venancio Botran, was born. This edition is paying homage to him.

Sep 192016
 

d3s_3684

As soleras go, this one is pretty good, and is less sweet than many, which is to its advantage

#303

***

Sooner or later, everyone who drinks the good stuff passes through the solera style of rums. Some brands have become behemoths, like the Zacapa 23 or Dictadors, and are adored and reviled in equal measure. The key points for both sides are the taste and the age statement. Given the increasing polarization of the rum world between those who “like what they like” versus those who feel only “real rums” should be marketed as such (and drunk), and who advocate for greater disclosure, it’s important to understand that’s the main source of the discord.

In short, any solera-stated rum is a blend, and any age-related number included on the label refers to the oldest part of that blend (not the youngest), with nothing to help a discerning buyer establish how much rum of that age is actually in therepeople who want to know what’s in their hooch hate this kind of marketing, where a number is posited – 15!! — without further embellishment. However, it must be said that Botran, with roots in Spain and its sherry tradition (which uses such an ageing regime), has always made soleras, and they hew to all the taste profiles this system is known for: smooth, soft, warm, sweet. And in this case, according to the brand rep in 2015 who ran me through the lineup, while the rum is a true solera, fully 50% of the result is actually fifteen years old. Ummm. Okay. That doesn’t square with the mathematics, but a blend is a blend no matter what you call it, so I take it without comment and move on.

d3s_3683Part of the reason for the sweetness in this case lies in the finishing regime. The Botran Reserva 15 is laid to rest for several months in sherry casks after having been aged in lightly toasted bourbon casks (although I’ve heard some age in port casks, but that may be anecdotal). Those soleras I have tried before hewed to certain markers of taste (coffee for the Dictadors, some lighter fruity notes on the Cartavio, generally firm mouthfeel and soft exit), but this one certainly went its own way. The initial scents on the copper-brown rum were a rather startling charcoal and ashes mixed in with unsweetened dark chocolate: as full and luscious as a seedy lady of the night somewhat past her prime. It was musty at first, warm, not hot, and rather grudgingly gave way to a subdued fruitinessthe heavier notes of overripe cherries and light tartness red currants. Not bad, really, since originality of assembly is something I enjoy if done right.

It also presented some rather good heft for a 40% rum (this is where the suspicions of dosing creep in), presenting a medium to full bodied mouthfeel that was quite soft, and smooth to a fault. The initial taste was of caramel and burnt sugarnone of that ashes and charcoal taste carried over from the nose at all. Indeed, here the fruits took on a greater influence, with the heavier notes of plums, cherries, peaches taking their turn but mixing it up well with some chocolate and coconut shavingsthere was perhaps some smoke at the back end, leading to a finish where the slightest bit of wood and vanilla were back, breathing drowsily into a short ending. All in all, there was no single backbone of flavour upon which all the other tastes were hung, more a commingling of individual pieces that tasted and smelled well, but were individually unassertive. What that means is some will like it for that precise reason, while others will think it’s too wussy and too easy and meant for those lacking an adventurous yo-ho-ho spirit embodied by a higher and more intense proof point. But that, I believe, is to miss the point, since soleras are not brutally elemental monsters for connoisseurs, but lighter, gentler rums that seek more to go along and get along, than to make a point of raw drinking machismo. And this one does a good job.

Speaking for myself, I have no particular issues with a rum that is sweet (or sweetened, although Botran rums’ hydrometer test results suggest they don’t add anything)…it all depends on how I feel on any particular day, and (perhaps more importantly) who I’m chugging with. If I want to introduce someone to rums, this one would be a very good place to start. It’s perfect for an easy neat sundowner, to be sipped while we discuss how best to run the world and make it safe for rum. For those somewhat more dour drinkers of the Malt family who I’m trying to bring over to the True Faith (and who usually prefer their Hebridean hooch at cask strength), I’d probably not let them near this elegant but perhaps over-soft solera.

(84/100)

 

Sep 182016
 

botran-blanca

A laid back white rum with more of a profile than expected

#302

***

“A balanced combination of distilled rums” remarks the webpage for the Guatemalan company Botran, which makes a number of light, Spanish style rums in the solera method, and goes on in rhapsodic marketspeak about being aged in the mountains of Guatemala in lightly toasted white oak American barrels (although note that I was told by a brand rep that this rum was aged in French oak). It may sound like snippiness on my part, but in truth this is still more information than many other makers provide, so back to my notes: what else is there to say about the rums they makelet’s see…column still product, aged up to three years, charcoal filtered, from reduced sugar cane juice (“honey”), fermentation taking five days or so with a pineapple-based yeast strain.

The five Botran brothers (Venancio, Andres, Felipe, Jesus and Alejandro) whose parents immigrated from Spain to Central America, established the Industria Licorera Quetzalteca in the western Guatemalan town of Quetzaltenango (2300 meters above sea level) back in 1939 when most rums were produced by Mom-and-Pop outfits on their own parcels of land. The company remains a family owned business to this day; curiously, the sugar cane comes from the family estate of Retalhuleu in the south. They also produce the Zacapa line of rums which have come in for equal praise and opprobrium in the last few years, a matter originating in the disdain some have for the solera method, the sweetness and the light nature of the rums, as well as the feeling that no age statement should be put on such products.

botran-blanca-2Still, the rum’s profile is what I’m looking at today, not how it’s made, so let’s move on. Those with preferences running towards lighter, easier fare will find little to complain about here, and for a white rum that has been filtered to the colour of water, it’s not bad. It doesn’t smell like much at the inception – mostly light vanilla, a little watermelon and sugar water, with some estery potential more sensed than actually smelled. It was really faint, very light, very easyand that didn’t allow much aroma to come out punching, another thing that cask strength rum lovers sniff at with disdain.

You get more on the palate, which was pleasing: the undercurrent of acetone and nail polish remained firmly in the background, some grassiness and vanilla, as well as bananas and a flirt of sweetness that reminded me of nothing so much as marzipan, all mixed up with coconut shavings and sugar water. Even at 40% ABV it was a very gentle, relaxed sort of rum (as many aged whites are), and unfortunately that carried over to a rather short and lackluster finish that had nothing additional to add to the conversation. All in all, it was a slightly above-average white mixer, drier and with somewhat more tastes evident in it than I had been expecting – it was certainly better than the baseline Bacardi Superior, for which I have little patience myself unless I want to get hammered when nothing else is available.

At the end, the question is what the rum is for, and the conclusion is that outside the mixing circuit, not much – and indeed, that is how it is sold and marketed. Even with the flavours described above, it’s likely too bland (and too weak) to appeal to those who like sipping their rums, and is more a wannabe competitor for the white Bacardis which have greater market share. I’m not convinced the solera system helps this (or any) white rum much, or provides any kind of real distinctiveness to the brand. The company might be better off not trying to go head to head with the mastodons of the white mixing world, but to carve out a niche of its own by being fiercer, more aggressive, more unique. But then, of course, it would not be a Botran rum: and given the decades and generations the family has put it into their products, it’s unlikely to happen anyway. Too badbecause that means it remains what it is, a decent cocktail ingredient, displaying little that’s extraordinarily new or original.

(79/100)


Other notes

Introduced in 2012. There are other flavoured whites made by the company, none of which I’ve tried

Sep 072015
 
Samaroli Nicaragua 1995

Photo (c) LionsWhisky.com

This is a rum that reaffirms my faith in the Nicaraguan rums. Nothing need be added to it, nothing can be taken away. There’s a purity and minimalism of construction here that is almost zen.

The sheer range of flavours emanating from the glass that held the Samaroli Nicaragua 1995 tickled my nose and astonished my mind. Few light coloured rums I’ve tried in the last six years were ever this rich right out of the gate. For a person whose background in Nicaraguan rum trends more to the Flor de Caña range (of which the 21 remains my favourite), this was not only intriguing, but an outright pleasure.

Samaroli is one of the first modern independent bottlers who’s still around (though Veronelli may be older), having opened its doors in 1968. As with many other Italian outfits, they initially specialized in whiskies, but in our subculture, it’s their rum bottlings for which they are more highly esteemed. There’s a certain cachet to Samaroli rums, perhaps because there were among the first to begin issuing limited edition craft bottlings for rum which were more than just by-the-way-we-think-you-might-like-this efforts done by scotch makers. Companies like Secret Treasure, Velier, Rum Nation, Compagnie des Indies are its intellectual heirs. These newer companies seem to grab reviewers’ attention, headlines and market share much more than the old guy on the block, and yet there is Samaroli, still quietly putting out the hits. Maybe it’s Samaroli’s absence from the Facebook or festival circuit. Maybe it’s their comparative rarity – this ten year old 45% rum, for example, only has 378 bottles in existence. Maybe it’s their overall qualityI have not heard a bad thing said about the decades-long rum lines. Still, it ain’t exactly cheap at €160, and that will make a lot of people pause.

All of this crossed my mind as I nosed a more-than-generous sample sent to me by that estimable gentleman from France, Cyril of DuRhum, so a big hat tip to the man.

Usually a light gold rum almost presumes a certain light sparkly diffidencenot here. Smooth thick and slightly heated aromas rose from the glass, firmly providing the initial dusting of citrus and ripe oranges, cinnamon and pepper, around which danced scintillating notes of overripe green grapes. It had a slightly nautical tang to it, of seaspray and brine, black olivesreally well put together, not too heated to be unpleasant, not too faint to be unnoticeable. It did take a while to open up, but that wait was worth itadditional scents of caramel and sugar notes sulkily emerged at the tail end, as if doing me a favour. Never mind, still liked it.

Ahh, the taste of this thing….just lovely. It was medium to full bodied in texture, and the various tastes were distinct and separable and came across as sweetly as a series of precise piano notes dropping gently into a pool of silencesomething by Mendellsohn, I think, or one of Chopin’s quiet nocturnes. There was absolutely no bombast or fire here, just one pure thing after anothergreen grapes to begin with, fleshy apricots, followed by a frisson of plums and the zest of tangerines. A little water brought out toblerone, honey and nutsand oddly, very little brown sugar or caramel. On the other hand, well controlled oak, aromatic tobacco and vanilla rounded things out quite nicely, so no complaints there. The exit was medium long, warm but not sharp, presenting the final tastes of peaches and citrus oil and leather, and you’d better believe I wasted no time in having another sample.

The Nicaragua 1995 is an completely delicious, professionally made rum. Mr. Samaroli has always felt that as flavours increase with age the texture and body fall off, and there’s a sweet spot where age, texture and strength intersect. In this case, ten year ageing and 45% may be just about right for providing a remarkable tasting experience without overreaching. There are some who have no particular liking for Nicaraguan rums (as represented by Flor de Caña, which has gotten some flak in recent years due to its age-statement and labeling philosophy) – to such naysayers, I’d simply say that for depth of flavour and overall profile, for an enjoyable spirit that succeeds on practically every level and can be used for whatever you want, you wouldn’t shortchange yourself by trying this rum if it ever crosses your path.

(#231. 88/100)


Other notes

  • No additions or inclusions or chill-filtration
  • Distilled in Nicaragua in 1995, bottled 2005 in Scotland, where it was also aged.
Mar 182015
 
D3S_8975

Not my best rum photo ever: I had set the shutter speed too slow

 

This is definitely a rum to chillax with. A solid, relaxed and very pleasant Salvadorean rum which should be given some attentioneven if it’s actually from Panama.

Assume you were a new outfit in a country A and were making a new rum whose brand was once owned and which was once made, by your family; you sourced distillate from another country, B; used that country B’s facilities to make and age the finished product; and hired a Master Blender, also from that B country. Now, the question is, whose rum is it? A or B? This is not nearly as academic an exercise as it seems, because Ron Maja purports to be a rum from El Salvador, yet the sugar cane and distillate hail from Panama, the rum is aged in Panama, and the ‘recipe’ for the final blend comes courtesy of Don Pancho Fernandez, also associated with the Panamanian industry.

When I ran across the rum at the Berlin 2014 Rum Festival (where it won a Bronze medal for 11-14 year old rums), the company representative was quite clear about the matter without any prompting. She told me frankly that the purpose of making both this product and its younger 8-year old sibling (also an award winner in Madrid in 2014), was to kickstart a long-dormant rum industry in El Salvador generally, and for the family that owned the brand specifically. The issue is not entirely without precedent – for example, Pyrat’s no longer has much, if anything, to do with Anguilla, St Nicholas Abbey sourced its original stocks from Foursquare, and many Caribbean Islands’ companies buy molasses from Guyana…and you sure never see that anywhere on various labels. (My opinion is below).

That out of the way, what are we to make of the twelve year old rum aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and issued at a soothing unaggressive 40%? It was housed in a squat green bottle, decent plastic tipped cork, and marked with a bare minimum of information on the label – including that “El Salvador” moniker – and poured out in a bright golden liquid. It smelled like what it was, a soft, easy-going, medium-bodied rum, with vanillas, some brown sugar and coconut politely jostling for my attention. There was no aggressiveness at all here, and my initial opinion was that it was a good all-rounder: it could just as easily be a mixer, had neat, or over ice for those who preferred it that way. Still, given its rather gentle aroma, I’m not sure how much any mix would add to its value…a cola or ginger beer might just shred the thing.

Things got rather more assertive as I tasted it (and I went back to it twice that day when no-one was looking just to confirm my initial impressions) – the lightness of the nose gave way to a taste that was more solid. Soft fleshy fruits, vanilla, a flirt of citrus were in evidence, followed by peaches and ripe apples and smoke. And again that hint of lemon zest and perhaps even a bit of ginger, for a fillip of complexity. It was very Panamanian, or Latin if you wish – there were aspects of it that reminded me of similarly serene Peruvian and Colombian rums I’ve had, and could be confused with an Abuelo 12 (which was heavier), Juan Santos 12 (a shade lighter), or even Rum Nation’s 18 year old (a bit more complex). The finish was smooth, warm and quite docile, providing pleasant reminders of what had gone before it.

Maja is trying to jump start an indigenous rum industry, and have created a very good rum from stocks which have all been aged twelve years (it’s not a blend of various ages). To do this properly, what they have to do is grab some market share from more established companies, and hew to the standard proof line. My own feelings on 40% are not new: still, putting aside such a personal predilection, I believe that the Ron Maja 12 year old is a solid mid-tier rum whose great strength will be its overall delectability and versatility, if not true passion (it’s really not the kind of rum that inspires solo trans-Atlantic voyages in a bathtub, for example, or grandly-declaimed love from the rooftops by misguided lovelorn swains).

It’s simply good, and what it brings to the table is accessibility (many will really enjoy its laid-back profile), overall quality, and lack of in-your-face bite. It’s a well-made, smooth and warm drink, with enough going on within that you’ll never doubt that it still remembers it’s a rum. And at 40% and €45 per bottle, you really won’t have a problem drinking it neat, which for me is a pretty good recommendation.

(#207. 83/100)


Other notes:

  • The Rumporter online magazine has a small article on this rum here, in French.
  • I have an outstanding email in play to Ron Maja, where they promised to get back on to me regarding more history and background; when received, I’ll update this post.

Opinion

While appreciating the logistics and other problems Maja no doubt has undergone in bringing its product to market, I am going on record as disapproving of the labeling exercise – it ignores the reality of what this rum really is, and touches on larger issues of truth in advertising and presentation. The founding family and originator of Ron Maja is from El Salvador – is this enough to make it a Salvadorean rum when everything that comprises it except the owners, is from somewhere else?

For this to be presented as being what it supposedly is, I believe that some part of the production process has to be in El Salvador (like the Islands mentioned above have ageing and blending facilities in their territories, or St Nick’s is aged and bottled at the Abbey). The cane, the molasses, the distillation or the bottling…something. This may just be a fig leaf to add that touch of respectability or verisimilitude, but it would give consumers a better idea of what it is they are getting for their money.

Update March 2015According to the company, the recipe used to assemble the rum was developed by the family, and this is the source of stating it is Salvadorean.

Jul 012013
 

D3S_5493

Passive,easy, light, indifferent, with a finish as short as this review

Put aside my issues with underproof rums in general, and the five year old rum made by Centenario Internacional SA out of Costa Rica comes off as a reasonable rum, quite soft, and in line with many of their other jelly-kneed products: which is to say, pleasant and perfectly drinkable, but ultimately uninspiring (to me). As before, I simply note that I’m unclear who the rum is made for, since it’s too weak to appeal to an aficionado or to make a mix where strength is called for, and too strong for those who prefer liqueurs and digestifs. Perhaps it’s a liquid primer for beginners who want to test the waters before plunging right in.

In the glass, this hay blonde 35% spirit presented itself on the nose like a somnambulant Chihuahua: it had a smooth, shy, yet oddly nippy little nose to it. And that scent was very nice, if kind of, well, tiny: cherries and frangipani meandered out, brown sugar and caramel notes held hands with them, wound around with a smidgen of oak tannins and citrus. To some extent this lack of oomph is at the heart of my dissatisfaction with underproofs, since I’ve long since stated that I personally am more enthused by stronger and more aggressive (and darker) profiles: light, dancing notes that are difficult to come to grips with just don’t do much for me, pleasant as they may be (and admittedly, they really are quite pleasant, in this rum).

As befitted a less powerful rum, the arrival on the tongue was smooth, light and lacked sting or oiliness. Tangerine rinds and brown sugar, caramel infused with muskier, sharper oak: overall a pretty nice rum, just without chutzpah. As it opened up (didn’t need long for that), other, subtler tastes emerged, honey and pecans, a bit of vanilla. Quite enjoyable on its own. It succeeds swimmingly on taste and aroma, but failed on intensity, and while to me that sank it, there’s no question that as a drink judged on its own standards (that of rums bottled at 35%), it wasn’t half bad. Of course, it would come as no surprise to anyone that the finish was short and gentle and tasty, like being enveloped in a thin but very soft sweater that someone wore too close to a smoky fire for an hour or two.

D3S_5490

So: as a five year old, it’s reasonable without passion, self-contained without aggro. A bit passive, if you will, giving you what it has without real flair or bang-down-your-door animalism. Bearing in mind my personal palate, which tends towards darker and stronger rums, I can’t say I would ever buy such a rum, because underneath, if I were to be honest, here’s a product that doesn’t look like it wants to be a rum at all, or, at best, is truly sure about its place in our piratical universe.

(#171. 78/100)


Opinion

It’s appreciated that my disdain for rums bottled at under 40% is a divisive issue, and many will like it for the same reasons I don’t. The purpose of these remarks (even if negative) is to illustrate how I reacted to a rum that does not conform to my own standards, even if it does to those of others. As with any product one is unsure of (or disagrees with the review of) and where one gets different opinions from many people, sourcing a sample of one’s own to try is probably best.

If your preference is for such a relatively gentle drink but you do enjoy some complexity as well, take a look at the Legado 12 year old made by the same company. It’s also 35% (available at 40% in Europe), and has similar qualifications from me, but there’s quite a bit more interesting stuff going on in that one than here, especially at the front end.

 

Jun 182013
 

D3S_5953

 

Ambivalence personified

Ever since I sampled Traveller’s Liquors 1-barrel expression, I’ve wanted to move up the chain – that rum, for its youth and antecedents, was a pleasure to drink, and I really appreciated its ten year old cousin, the excellent Don Omarios Vintage Rum. As with the latter, it was a bottle which “Rum Balls” Tony brought back when he was on holiday over in that part of the world: he obliged his parched amigo by schlepping a bottle of this Belize-made rum back for me to try (with him in attendance, of course). So once again, big hat-tip to Da Man.

I remarked in the Don Omario review that the 5 Barrel would really have to have an oomphed up game to beat it, and the initial nose of the amber coloured, thick legged rum suggested it might: it had a musty, earthy pungency to it, a certain driness, reminding me of an old carpet I used to beat the crap out of in the days before the family had a vaccuum cleaner. Licorice, caramel, brown sugar in a plastic baggie, and a lingering whiff of a cloying overripe (dark red or black) grape notes, something like a sweet red wine. Not quite my thing, that last, though overall, nothing to gripe about, and much to admire.

The taste was an interesting counterpoint. Light and smooth and clearclean is a word not inappropriate to use in this context, and odd after that darker earthier nose. The rum itself was bottled at 40% and was medium to light bodied, but care must be takenI’m not comparing the taste on the palate to an agricole, because here the balance was different, well handled between the light clearer flavours of androgynous fruit like papaya, kiwi and breadfruit. The caramel and sugar notes were held in check while not being entirely overwhelmed, and if I had to make on contrary observation here, it was that there was a salty, almost crackers or biscuits background at the last I simply didn’t care for. The finish was shortish, smooth, warm, and decent without brilliance: it simply reaffirmed all the aforementioned flavours. The Omario, which counted this as its weakest point, was still better.

Summing up, I liked the 5 Barrel quite a lot, but those odd discordant notes that crept in somewhat marred the experience for me. At end I can’t help but feel faintly let down. It’s not that it’s a bad rum (quite the oppositein fact it’s a perfectly solid rum in its own way). I just expected, given the sterling encomiums it was given by individuals for whom I have respect, that it would be, somehow…better. When I compare it to both the 1-barrel, which I enjoyed but which it eclipsed, and then the Don Omario’s, which edged past it, you can perhaps forgive me for being just a shade sniffy about the matter.

If I was feeling bitchy, I’d close by making grumbling, snarky comments about where it failed and what it didn’t do for me and how could it be said to be such a premium expression when it really isn’t, and so on. I won’t, though, because truly, as a mid-range sipping rum, there’s not much fault to find. The thing is solid, just not brilliant (for me…your mileage will inevitably vary). So what it comes down to is expectation versus reality, the very conundrum that infects our daily lives. I go into every new job as an unbridled optimist, thinking that this will be the last one, the best one, this is the one I’ll make my pile from and retire in. Anyone who knows the penurious state of my finances and the precariousness of employment in my drone-like cubicle knows how laughable that sentiment is.

And so also for rums. The Traveller’s Five barrel is what it is, a decent, workmanlike entry into the genre, well put together, decently blended, nothing to be ashamed of at all. My expectations aside, there’s no reason for meor you, for that matterto ignore it if it ever came across my path again.

(#168. 82/100)


Other Notes

 

 

Jun 152013
 

D3S_5967

Sedate, but not quite docile. Urbane with just a hint of bad boy. An excellent fifteen year old out of Belize.

The humourist in me likes to think that Travellersthat excellent rum house out of Belize which also makes the 1-barrel, 3-barrel and 5-barrel rumshas a resident Irishman on the payroll, and he changed his name, and was instrumental in making a left field product with his name on it (I had a similar feeling when I ran into an Irish pub in Kazakhstan many years ago). The reality is different, of course, but it tickled me mightily. Anyway, all that aside, I was otherwise enthused by the vintage rum called Don Omario’s Vintage which “Rum Balls” Tony brought over. He is, you will remember, the guy who has now put me under the table on several occasions with the rums he brings for me to try (while cheerfully pilfering my own vintage stocks).

Traveller’s has been in business since the 1950s, founded by Omario Perdomo (yeah, that’s the guy), after whom this rum is named: the company derived its moniker from its origin in serving the various travellers in and out of Belize City. Like many other national companies (DDL and Tanduay spring to mind), they produce a wide range of spirit products for both the domestic and export market, and thus far, the only previous rum from their range which I had tried was a very pleasant 1-barrel (and I now have the 3- and 5- barrel variations to check out if I can ever get around to them).

There’s a certain retro aspect to this bottle that’s quite uniquein fact, it may be one of the most unusual designs I’ve seen in recent memory: it is shaped roughly like a six pointed star when seen from above (too bad that’s not the way it’ll appear on the shelves, isn’t it?). Good cork, so-so labelling, all-over faux-1970s design. Inside was a copper mahogany liquid that poured out along the sides of the glass with the slow plump legs of a chubby baby.

D7K_1881

I should confess that the nose on this rum was something a few orders of magnitude ahead of the 1 Barrel I was sampling alongside it. Luscious in depth, it reminded me a lot of the Dictador 20: earthy background, coffee, chocolate, fleshy non-acidic fruitsprunes, dried apricots, even dates. The smell advanced past this to mild white pepper notes, caramel and burnt sugar, and came together really, really well.

As for the taste, no complaints from me there. Medium to heavy bodied on the tongue, bottled at an excellent 45%my research suggests it was double distilled from molasses. Smooth and pleasant, with initial warm notes of well humidified tobacco leading off, handing over to chocolate and caramel notes, limmed with burnt sugar and a lovely background of coffee and roasted nuts. The nose hadn’t lied either, because fruity scents hadn’t disappeared, and were a shade more intense than previously promised: peaches freshly cut and still oozing sap, prunes and that flirt of apricots. Good stuff. I should point out that it displayed a few discordant notes here and theremostly some sharpish oak and a tad of dry astringencyas I went back and forth, and I suggest to you that this gives it a nice character, a little bit of bullyism to the palate, something that makes it more than just another rum that pleases.

The finish is about the weakest thing about an otherwise sterling product: dry, short and straightforward, and I’m not damning it for that, by the way, because for all its minimal length, it was soft and billowy, giving up closing aromas of nuts and coffee grounds faintly mixed up with toffee and butterscotch. The close may be too rapid for some, but given what had come before it, I muted my bitch button and simply accepted it as a very pleasant fifteen year old rum, one I would say nice things about to anyone who asked. The 5-barrel I’ve heard so much about would really have to be spectacular to beat it, I think.

So where does this leave me? Well pretty happy, all in all. Traveller’s have made an interesting, professional fifteen year old, smooth, silky, tasty and good for sipping on a cold Calgary night. It is at this point not for sale here, but I will have fond memories of my experience with it, and recommend it as an excellent all-round rum bottled at precisely the right strength for what it attempts, which is to make you savour the visit of a squaddie like Tony who’ll bring it with him for you to try.

(#167. 85/100)


Other Notes

  • Originally I named this a ten year old based on some online background pages I read, though the literature is inconsistent about the matter: some mention it as being ten years old, some as fifteen. I have emailed Traveller’s to see if they can clear up the matter. Tony himself confirmed that when he bought it in Belize, it was specifically sold to him as being a fifteen year old, and so I have retitled my post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 252013
 

D7K_1864

Offbeat Panamanian rum which makes a virtue out being different. People will like it or hate it for the same reasons. I come down on the side of the former.

There’s something about Panamanian rums I really like. They are not as heavy and dark and growly as Demerara rums, nor as occasionally oaky and citrus-laden as the Jamaicans, or for that matter as soft and plummy and banana-like as I’ve often noted in the Bajans. You would never imagine a Panama rum being vulgar, overbearing or obnoxious, like a cinema-goer behind you who chucks your seat, won’t shut up and then ostentatiously uses his cellphone the whole friggin’ timejust well put-together, complex and riding the fine line between too much and not enough. I think of them as the little bear in Goldilockswhatever they come out as, it’s pretty much always just right.

A.D. Rattray, those zen like purveyors of simplicity, naturally don’t pay much attention to that, perhaps taking their lead from Cadenhead and their Spartan distillation and ageing ethos. They took rum from the Don Jose distillery in Panama (largest in the country, and home of the Varela Hermanos boys who made the Abuelos), aged it for twelve years, and then didn’t muck about with chill filtration or adding anything, just gave you whatever came out the other end.

This methodology had some disconcerting effects on the dark gold, 46% ABV finished product I was tasting here (bottle #344 from Cask #1). For one thing, the nose was quite dissimilar to most other Panamanians I’ve had thus far, up to and including the fantastic Rum Nation Panama 21much lighter, almost like an agricole for starters. I really had to work at this one to dissect it: bananas, strawberries, orange peel and bananas, with some sting and bite at the tail end, which I pretty much expected from a 46% rum, so no harm there. Yet there were also some dissonant notesa faint whiff of petrol, turpentine, light perfume (I’m not making this up, seriously!). Almost no caramel or molasses scents at all. Mary, who was sampling this baby with me, opined that it reminded her of a wet baseball glove, which I concede may have been reaching just a bit. But there’s no denying that this was quite an original nose for a rumif it had been heavier, perhaps more pungent, I think I would have liked it even more.

Things opened up some on the taste, however, mitigating some of my concerns. Medium bodied, medium sweet, medium spicy (can’t get away from that 46%, after all) — it presented a certain creaminess on the tongue, just enough. It opened into a licorice background, through which meandered delicate woody notes, white chocolate and butter (some brininess thereagain, not enough to turn me off just sufficient to be noticeable). Gradually the rum blossomed out with hesitant caramel, vanilla and molasses tastes, so shy that I remarked to Mary that perhaps this was a rum aged in much-used, almost-dead oaken casks with not much piss and vinegar left in them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the tasteit was better than the nosebut it really upended most of my expectations, perhaps because it had aspects much more commonly suggested by agricoles instead of Panamanians. Fade was as dry and heated as a middle eastern desert, and lacking any kind of distinctive closing scents of its own, beyond some chocolate, light smokiness and leather.

D3S_5945

Did I like it? Yup, quite a bit. Not as much as I was expecting, but I must confess to appreciating its sheer rawness, its unusual-ness. The ADR Panama rum was unlike the cheerful youth and sprightliness evinced by the Abuelo 7, and couldn’t hold a candle against the Rum Nation Panama 21, though it scored better than the Panama 18, also made by Rum Nation. I think this kind of underblending (is there such a word?) must be deliberate, because surely budgetary concerns were not an issue at ADR, who appear to have a dour agnosticism regarding profit margins in some of their rums, and just go ahead and make what they feel like on any given day, so long as it tastes real good.

Is the rum for young men and college students looking for a fast bender? Is it for us older farts approaching our sell-by dates? New entrants to the rum-appreciation game? Not at all. It’s for anyone who still has a sense of wonder and a feeling for blending style. This rum contains elements that have been thought out (or ignored) and has surprises right to the finish. In its own crazy way, it’s actually quite exhilarating (yeah, and strange). Sipping it for the fourth time, trying to make up my mind, I realized the I needed this sharp left turn to make me understand the differing directions a product could gothe ADR Panamanian Rum from Don Jose has been created and imagined as a new sensory location for us to inhabit. It’s a hell of a rum. It adds lustre to our notions of what can be made, by a guy who knows his stuff, from nothing but the harvested stalks of an oversized grass.

(#164. 85/100)

 

Apr 122013
 

D7K_1244

A set of Bata flip-flops made out of Gucci-quality leather

Frankly, I just don’t get the point of underproofs. It’s like they aren’t quite sure what they want to be, and are deathly afraid of offending even one potential customer by being, I dunno, a real rum. If I wanted a light liqueur, I would have bought one, and to have a rum aged twelve years to be bottled at a strength like 35% makes little sense to me: the wussiness sinks an otherwise decent product. You can taste the underlying potentialit just doesn’t deliver.

Put aside the grumbling about oomph, and this 12 year old rum made in Costa Rica (presented to me by my compadres Mary and Stuart, who recently returned from there) is a pretty good product, mind youit risesbarelyabove its weakness, one might say. Consider merely the presentation: decent cardboard box of good paper, well designed, holding a frosted, dark, engraved bottle with a plastic screw cap. Solid all the way ‘round.

This was a rum too weak to batter your schnozzso gentleness, warmth, lightness and softness were expected and receivedand had intriguing and predominating scents of vanilla. Around that core swirled light floral hints, freshly cut ripe peaches and apricots (not rich enough for pineapple by any means, which was a good thing). Sweet, not cloying, and a faintly medicinal background, barely noticeable. Relatively unassertive, which may point to where underproofs usually unravel for me.

That gentleness carried on to the palate as well. This was a very smooth and light rum, and because of its delicacy, very difficult to pick apart. Almost no oak prescence, more vanilla and caramel and light flowers, all of which morphed into the androgynous nature of a papaya, skirting the line between a little tartness and none at all. There was hardly any finish to speak of, a short exit that left a quick last taste of oak and vanilla (but none of the raw smoke of older, more powerful expressions), and left me looking with some dissatisfaction at my glass. It gave too little, you see, and while a person casually trying something in this line would probably enjoy it, I preferred and continue to prefer, stronger and more intense drinks. This wasn’t one of them, good as its makers made it.

Speaking of the makers, Centenario Internacional SA from Costa Rica makes quite a range of these rumsfive, seven, nine, twelve year and twenty year olds (plus a solera 25 40% not mentioned on their website). Aged in white oak barrels, the product of locally grown sugar cane, all except the solera are bottled at 35% according to the website’s photographs, so this is not an aberration, but a deliberate blending choice. I’m afraid I was not able to come up with much more regarding the company historyhowever, it did not seem to be one of those decades- or centuries- old distilling houses with traditions handed down through the generations, more a commercial spirits maker of relatively recent antecedents.

In fine, then, the general profile of the Centenario strikes an intriguing balance between the smooth lightness of some of the Colombian rums (like the Juan Santos 12, or the Ron Viejo de Caldas Añejo 8 años 38%) and the slightly more assertive Panamanians such as the Abuelo 12 or RN Panama 18. But bar the Viejo de Caldas, those drinks were bottled at par proof or better, had heft, hair and some hormones under the satin slinkiness. On this one, I can’t help thinking that they had a great product in the making , and for reasons known only to themselves, they dialled it back down to a puff piece I can barely call a rum without snickering. Much as I believe it to be a good product, I would only use it to introduce a newbie to the rum world, because at end, speaking for myself and knowing my preferences, that weakness of proof is its undoingthey have, alas, made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse.

(#155. 80.5/100)


Other notes

  • Scouring the online shops shows me that the 40% expressions of the Legado are available, mostly in Europe. I suspect I’d enjoy those a lot more and score them more highly than this one.
  • Josh Miller from Inu a Kena has reviewed the Centenario 25 and notes it as being a solera. No such notation for the Legado, either on box or bottle
  • This one can be had neat, no problem. It’s gentle and smooth enough not to bite. A drink for the calmly unadventurous who prefer navigate through less treacherous waters without any stress.