Dec 212020
 

The Cuban-made Vacilón brand was launched in 2016 (as a relaunch of an apparently very popular brand from the 1950s) and has been making the rounds of the various rum festivals off and on. It’s part of the brand’s “luxury range” of 15 / 18 / 25 year old rums, which is fine, except that as usual, there’s very little to actually go on about the production detailswhich remains one of the more annoying things about latin rons in general, hardly unique to Cuba.

Suffice to say, it is made by Destilería Heriberto Duquesne attached to the local sugar mill located in Remedios in the north-central coast of Cuba under the overlordship of Cuba’s government entity Tecoazúcar. Founded in 1844 and previously known as Santa Fe, this is a distillery that produces pure alcohol as well as export rum, and makes the Vigia and the Mulata rum brandsso consolidating the information we have from those (here and here) we can say with some assurance that it’s a column still light rum, aged in ex-bourbon barrelsand that barrel strategy, coupled with skilful blending by the roneros, is behind its taste profile, not any kind of terroire or pre-distillation techniques or pot still component.

How does that all come together when it’s time for the theory to take a back seat? Judge for yourself. Personally, I found the strength to be anemic at 40%. It allowed aromas of caramel, nuts, flowers, coffee and cocoa to come through, just not with any kind of punch or assertiveness. Some light fruitswatermelon, papaya, guava, nothing too boldshyly tiptoed on to the stage but at the first sigh of appreciation they panicked and ran back off again.

Tasting it made it clear this is a soft, warm sipping rum to be had by itself, and savoured that wayeven ice might destroy its fragile and delicate construction. That’s both its appeal and (for me) it’s downfallI tasted caramel, butterscotch, bon bons, a bit of hazelnut, lemon zest, cumin and dill, a touch of ripe pear and that was it. The finishwell, it trailed off like an unfinished sentence, trending towards silence without ever having drawn attention to itself. Which is, I must concede, about what I had expected (though not what I had hoped for) and which defined the rum as a whole.

Let me be clearthe Vacilón is a perfectly “nice” rum. On the surface, based on the label, it hits all the high points. It’s from Cuba, home of a long and proud tradition of rum making stretching back centuries. It is fifteen “true” years old. And if it’s only 40% well, cask strength isn’t the rumiverse and standard strength rums should not be looked down upon just because they lack the spirituous equivalent of Ahnold’s biceps in his prime.

Except that that was not the way the experience unfolded. I can live with the faint, quiet, wispy proof, I just needed to focus more, and harder, to tease out the tasting notes. But it was simply unexciting, lacking appeal, not making any kind of serious statement for its own uniqueness and quality. It could have been five years younger and not been appreciably different. Why in this day and age they didn’t at least try to jolly it up to maybe 43% or 46% remains one of those unanswered questions to which rons have yet to respond. Maybe it’s because they sell quite enough of what they do already and see no reason to change.

That of course is their privilegerums like this do have their fans and markets. But as long as rons’ makers only keep trotting along the same old track at the same old pace, they’re only ever going to end up getting dismissive reviews like this one, and placing themselves in the “also-ran” finishing spot. Or even further back in the listings, which is something of a shame for an otherwise decent product on which maestros roneros expend so much time and effort. I think they can do better for today’s audiences, and they should at least give it a try, instead of recreating blends that were popular the 1950s but which are no longer as much in fashion now as they were back then.

(#787)(76/100)

Aug 132020
 

There’s a peculiar light yellow lustre to the Santiago de Cuba rum somewhat euphemistically called the Carta Blanca (“White Card”), which is a result, one must assume, of deliberately incomplete filtration. The rum is aged three years in oak casks, so some colour is inevitable, but in anonymous white barroom mixers, that’s usually eliminated by the charcoal used: so whatever colour remains can’t be an accident. It’s likely, in this case, that the makers figured since it was issued at a trembly-kneed sort of please-don’t-hurt-me sub-proof strength, it might be better to leave something behind in case people forgot it was supposed to be a rum and not a vodka.

That worked, I supposeup to a point. The problem is that a 38% proof point simply does not permit sufficient serious aromas to be discerned easilyyou really got to work at it (which I argue is hardly the point for a rum like this one).

When nosing it, I certainly got the light sort of profile it promised: some negligible white fruits, in bed with a thinly sharp and quite herbal background; it smelled a bit grassy, almost agricole-like, surprising for a Spanish-style ron from Cuba. And when I took my time with it and let it stand for a bit, I sensed almonds, crushed walnuts, coconut shavings, papaya, sweet watermelon and even a touch of brine. (Note: adding water did absolutely nothing for the experience beyond diluting it to the point of uselessness).

As for the taste when sipped, “uninspiring” might be the kindest word to apply. It’s so light as to be nonexistent, and just seemed sotimid. Watery and weak, shivering on the palate with a sort of tremulous nervousness, flitting here and there as if ready to flee at a moment’s notice, barely brushing the taste buds before anxiously darting back out of reach and out of range. I suppose, if you pay attention, you can detect some interesting notes: a sort of minerally base, a touch of mint. Citruslike lemon grasscardamom and cumin, and even some ginnip and sour cream. It’s just too faint and insipid to enthuse, and closes the show off with a final touch of citrus peel and lemon meringue pie, a bit of very delicate florals and maybe a bit of pear juice. Beyond that, not much going on. One could fall asleep over it with no issues, and miss nothing.

Obviously such tasting notes as I describe here are worlds removed from the forceful aspects of all those brutal falling-anvil fullproofs many fellow boozehounds clearly enjoy more. When faced with this kind of rum my default position as a reviewer is to try and be tolerant, and ask who it was made for, what would such people say about it, can redemption be found in others’ tastes? After all, I have been told on many occasions that other parts of the world prefer other rumssofter, lighter, weaker, subtler, easiermade for mixes, not chuggers or shot glasses.

Completely agree, but I suspect that no-one other than a bartender or a cocktail guru would do much with the Carta Blanca. It has all the personality of a sheet of paper, and would disappear in a mix, leaving no trace of itself behind, drowned out by anything stronger than water. It does the world of rum no favours, trumpets no country and no profile worthy of merit, and after a sip or a gulp can be forgotten about as easily as remembering which cocktail it was just mixed in. In short, it has a vapid existence unmolested by the inconvenience of character.

(#752)(72/100)

Jul 102018
 

Now that Americans can bring back Cuban booze without sanction, it’s likely that their rums will get a boost in sales, and if the Havana Club trademark war ever gets resolvedthough I doubt it will happen any time soonthen we’ll see many more on the market. However, at this period in time, over and above the big names from the island like Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club, to get seriously aged juice that’s really from Cuba, we still have to look primarily at the independents for now.

One of these is Kill Devil, namedas any rummie can tell youafter the old term for rum used in its infancy in the Caribbean many centuries ago. Kill Devil is the rum brand of the whiskey blender Hunter Laing, and they’ve been around since 1949 when Frederick Laing founded a whisky blending outfit in Glasgow. In 2013, now run by descendants, the company created an umbrella organization called Hunter Laing & Co, which folded in all their various companies (like Edition Spirits and the Premier Bonding bottling company). As far as my research goes, the first rums they released to the marketunadulterated, usually at 46%, unfilteredcame in 2016, and they have issued releases from Barbados, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Fiji and this one from Cuba. One imagines that they read the tea leaves and realized there was some money to be made in rums as well as whiskies, though by coming into the market so relatively late, they’re butting heads with a lot of other new entrantsgood for us as consumers for sure, perhaps not quite as rosy-cheeked for them.

As for Sancti Spiritus, this is a Cuban distillery also known as Paraiso, dating from 1946 (there is some dispute hereanother source says 1944) that is located almost dead center in the island. Much of what is known of their rums comes from independents like Compagnie des Indes, Cadenhead, Bristol Spirits, Secret Treasures, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Isla del Ron and Renegade, implying a substantial export market of bulk rum to Europe. But they also make rums of their own under the Santero brand, like the Añejo Blanco, Carta Blanca 3 YO, Palma Superior, Añejo Ambarino, Añejo Reserva, Carta Oro 5YO, Añejo 7YO and Firewater (none of which I’ve tried, to my detriment). And I’ve heard it said they supply Havana Club as well, so there’s no shortage of places for anyone with an interest to get some.

Some brief stats, for the propellerheads like me: the single-cask rum here is from the above-noted distillery, coloured pale gold, distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2016, with 362 bottles released. And it has a strength of 46%, similar to rums issued by Renegade and L’Esprit and others, keeping it within reach and tolerance of the greater rum drinking audience.

That may be, but it was still quite a forceful piece of work to smell, much more so than I was expecting, and would perhaps come as a surprise to those who are used to softer, milder Bacardis as “Cuban style” exemplars. Presenting rather dry and spicyalmost hotit seemed to steer a course somewhere between a light molasses column still rum, and the grassier and more vegetal notes of an agricolewithout actually leaning towards either one. It had a mix of cherries, peaches and tart soursop, unsweetened yoghurt, vanilla, oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a very faint line of citrus running through the whole thing. It felt somewhat schizophrenic, to be honestboth acidic (in a good way) as well as lightly creamyand that made it intriguing to say the least.

As it was sipped, it became somewhat less creamy than the nose had intimated“sprightly” might be a good word as any to describe it. It was quite clean in the mouth, tasting of green grapes, apples, cider, mixed up with something of the saliva-flooding crisp tartness of red currants, or lemons just starting to go off. What made it stand out was the background notes of light flowers,caramel, vanilla, bananas, ginnips, and wet dark brown sugar, plus those spices again, mostly cinnamon. The finish was also quite elegant, and left memories of light caramel and fudge, oakiness and vanilla, with a little citrus for bite. It lacked a certain roundness and smooth planing away of rough edges, but I suggest that’s a good thingit made it its own rum rather than a milquetoast please-as-many-as-you-can commercial product you’ll forget tomorrow morning.

Overall, the rum shows that even with all our bitching about pot still rums being better and yet not represented often enough, there’s little that’s bad about a column still spirit when done right, and the Kill Devil is a good example. Even though I don’t know at what strength it came off the line, I feel that whatever complexities seventeen years of ageing imparted managed to provide an end result that was quite a nice rum (Cuban or otherwise). Which likely demonstrates that if we want to have a good column still experience from a juice aged in continental climes, there are certainly candidates for your coin out there, and as long as you come to grips with its slightly odd personality, this is one of them.

(#527)(84/100)

Jul 152015
 

C_des_Indes 2

Seems appropriate that I tried and fell in lust with this rum in Paris; it reminded me what the word concupiscent meant.

For every small craft maker that opens its doors and tries to make its mark on the rum world, yet fails to rise to the levels of its own self-proclaimed quality, there’s another that does. I’m going to go out on a limb, and remark that if this one sterling 15 year old Cuban rum (with a 280-bottle-outturn) is anything to go by, Compagnie des Indes is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy. All of them.

Let’s get the history and background out of the way. The founder of this French company, Mr. Florent Beuchet, drew on his background in the rum and spirits business (his father owns a winery and absinthe distillery, and Mr. Beuchet himself was a brand ambassador in the USA for Banks Rum for a couple of years) to open up a craft shop in 2014. If Mr. Beuchet was trying to evoke the atmosphere of the long-ago pirate days, he certainly started the right way by naming his company as he did. I grew up reading the histories of the violent, corrupt, exploitative, semi-colonial powers of the great trading concerns of Europe in the Age of Empiresthe British East and West India Companies, the Dutch East India Company, and many others. So right away we have a whiff of deep blue water, wooden sailing ships with snapping sails and creaking hawsers, and all their noble and happy traditions of rum, buggery and the lashand we haven’t even cracked the bottle yet.

All the usual suspects are represented in the company’s limited edition bottlingsGuadeloupe, Belize, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica are some examplesbut he has also bottled blends like the Latino and the Caraibes (reviewed by my buddy Steve on Rumdiaries, here), plus stuff I can’t wait to get my mitts on, from Fiji and Indonesia. And then there’s this one, from Sancti Spiritus in Cuba, bottled at 45%.

C_des_Indes 1

The first whiff of nose that greeted me after decanting the straw-brown rum was the raw musky scent of honey still in a beehive. It was warm, light, aromatic, a pleasure to inhale. Wax, cinnamon and cloves joined the party, and then it became unexpectedly and slightly dry as it opened up. After letting it stand for a few minutes, I tried it again, remarked on its clean and clear aroma, and then to my astonishment noticed not only cedar, sawdust straw and smokebut also mauby, a local (non-alcoholic) drink made from tree bark in the West Indies.

Well now, this I had to get more of, so I went straight into the tasting, and found no disappointment there. The driness persistednot unpleasantlyand the rum presented light and clear as the nose had suggested. It coated the tongue nicelyit waswell, clingy, I suppose (and I mean that in a good way). There again was that slight bitterness of unsweetened mauby, but also a delicate and slightly sweet floral note. The heavier honey scents were not totally absent, merely hinted at, allowing other flavours to come forward. White guavas, coconut, lavender, some sage even, all tied together by faint mint and tea leaves crushed between the fingers. The finish was excellentnot long, fruity and floral at once, smooth and heated, leaving me not only without any complaints, but hastening back to the bottle to try some more.

Although I have a thing for darker Demerara rums, a specimen like this one makes me think of throwing that preference right out of the window. I can happily report that the Cuba 15 year old is quietly amazing, one of the best from that island I’ve ever had. If Descartes was correct about the separable existences of body and soul (supported by Plato, whose Phaedrus was a winding literary excursion arguing for the soul’s immortality) then we might want to apply the concept to this rum. We’ll drink the thing down and enjoy every sip, and then it’ll be gone, but forget it we never will. Rums aren’t humans, of course, and have a shelf life usually measured in months, not decades….perhaps their continuance in our memories and affections is the only real immortality to which such a transient substance can aspire. In this case, rightfully so.

(#222. 88/100)


Other notes

  • Mr. Beuchet remarks that with certain clearly stated exceptions, he adds nothing to his rums, nor does he buy stock that has been adulterated in any way. Where such additions take place, he notes it up front. Like with Velier, his labels are quite informative (if not quite as stark).
  • The rum is two months shy of sixteen years old (distilled July 1998, bottled May 2014).
May 022013
 

D7K_1292

Parts of this rum succeed swimmingly, others less so.

This was the second of two rums brought over some days ago, by my squaddie Tonyhe of the famous 151 proof rumballs guaranteed to lay you out flat under the table in labba time. I remember having about four of these alcoholic grenades a few years back, and then having a serious and lengthy conversation with a doorpost for the next ten minutes, thinking it was the Hippie. Tony had the good fortune to visit Cuba recently, and being one of the few Caners in the whole province (he claims to have seen a few others of our near-mythical breed in occasional flyspeck watering holes, though this may be mere rumour), he brought back both this rum and the 12 year old Santiago de Cuba I looked at before.

So what to say about this one? Well, first of all, it’s not of a level quite comparable to the sterling 12 year old mentioned above, but it reminded me a lot of another Cuban rum I reviewed some months before, the Ron Palma Mulata de Cuba, which I didn’t care for all that much in spite of its also being aged twelve years. After doing some research, it came as no surprise that the same company made them bothTechnoazucar. The company website barely makes mention of this rum beyond some technical details, which I find an odd omission.

Secondly, the Vigia is made from sugar syrup, not molasses, which may account for something of its lighter, vegetal nose (the title of the rum comes from Hemmingway’s residence in San Francisco de Paula, Havana). Be that as it may, the mahogany rum did indeed have a rather herbal tang to it: dry, spicy, with hints of lemon grass, orange zest, dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Not aloofly astringent like Professor McGonnagal, more like, oh Professor Spoutplumper, more inviting, pleasantly earthy and absolutely no-nonsense. I thought that nose was the best thing about this product, though the taste wasn’t much behind.

The palate morphed from the aforementioned grassy notes to something quite differenta touch of red grapes and wine surrounding the caramel and burnt sugar core. A floral background of white blossoms stole gently around these aromas, and the mouthfeel was pleasant, without drama or overacting of any kind. Not all that smooth, but not overly spicy eitherit was quite a difference from the Mulata, and closer in profile to (if lighter than) the Santiago de Cuba. Certainly it was sweeter than either, I should note, just not enough to be either cloying or offensive. A medium long, none-too-special exit redolent of caramel and flowery notes, plus some crushed walnuts, light smoke and leather, rounded off the overall profile.

So, the nose was pretty decent, the palate almost as excellent and the finish just meh. The Vigia tasted like a youngish rum (5-7 years, I judged), one to mix in a nice daiquiri perhaps, or that old standby, the Libre. Some of my ambivalence comes from me seeing it as an agricole, not so much a molasses based product, and while I have great admiration for such rums when properly made (such as in the French Caribbean Islands), here it just seems that they wanted to produce a mid-tier rum without too much additional effort, saved their love for more top tier products, and let it go as it was.

Which is strange because it’s better than the Mulata 12 year old even without that extra care and attention. How odd is that?

(#158. 83/100)


Other Notes

Subsequent research suggested that as a Gran Anejo the ron is supposedly a blend of rons 12-15 years old but I still lack independent verification as of 2021

Apr 252013
 

D7K_1288

Very few discordant notes in this excellent 12 year oldjust perhaps a little less intensity than I’m after, maybe a shade less complexity.

The Cuba Rum Corporation’s 12 year old rum is a very well put together product that reaffirms my belief that if the US embargo is even lifted in part, rums should be high on the list of products allowed into the country just so those poor souls south of 49 can see what they’ve been missing. This rum is proof that Cuba remains high on the list of nations making some of the best rums out there.

Other bottles in the Santiago line made by the CRC are the Anejo, the 11 year old, 20 year old and 25 year old, and while it is dangerous to imply on the basis of a single tasting how others in the series turns out, all I can say is that after sampling this one (provided by my friend Antonio after he returned from the Island, in a rum tasting session at my house that was quite epic), I’m really looking forward to checking out all the others. Because this rum is very good indeed, even if it could (in my sole opinion) be made a shade stronger than the 40% at which it stands.

Lighter than some of the Demeraras I’ve been trying recently, but more assertive than the softer Bajan and Panamanians, the 12 year old had a lovely mahogany colour with ruby hints, which swirled thickly in my glass, releasing a very pleasant, pungent nose of muted orange peel, cherries and sweet, light flowers. These initial scents blossomed into a rich and fruity aroma that presented notes of cherries, vanilla, coconut and (if you can believe it) cola. In its own way, it released both perfumed and deeper caramel scents, with hardly any smoke or tannins at all.

D7K_1290

As for the arrival, that was amazing. Smooth and yet heated, warm and inviting on the palate. Based just on the colour, I would have expected it to be thicker and heavier to the taste, yet it was actually a bit light and dancing as all get out, as if I had seen Jack Black turn into Gwynneth Paltrow. Some smoke, nuts, caramel, papaya and brown sugar were the various commingling notes I was tastingbut what I want to emphasize is something of the overall balance and harmony these flavours achieved, the way they merged into a mouthfeel that was, quite simply, luscious. A medium long exit left behind fond memories of caramel, ripe yellow fruits and a faint perfumed note of citrus that faded only reluctantly.

This relatively dark coloured, light tasting rum could probably be bettered, but for the life of me I don’t see how unless it is to torque it up a shade. The boys who make the Santiago lineI read that the rum is made in the old Bacardi facilities which the family left behind after the Cuban Revolutionhave taken the light rum methodology pioneered by the old maestros and created something quite spectacular here: its Gold Medal at the 2012 Berlin RumFest was probably no accident. It succeeds at many levelsnose, taste, mouthfeel, finishand though perhaps my tastes these days run to somewhat stronger fare, I can’t argue with the results contained in this bottle.

D7K_1285

I came across a reference online that the Santiago rum (no further detail) was Castro’s favourite. That may be purely anecdotal, and I have lots of great hooch in my own stocksbut I can state with some assurance that if you have a shelf containing your own favourite sipping rums, this one can, without embarrassment or undue favour, be displayed proudly among all the others residing there.

(#157. 86/100)


Other Notes

In August 2019, Corporación Cuba Ron (“Cubaron”) signed a deal with that bastion of capitalism, Diageo, to distribute Ron Santiago de Cuba internationally (not including the USA, obviously). This is probably not good news for Pernod Ricard, the long term distributor of Havana Club and Diageo’s rival in the spirits business.