Cuba spawned two of the biggest brands in the entire rum business. At least in the western hemisphere, Havana Club and Barcadi are probably the two most well-known rum brands. Few people have heard of Sancti Spirtus or Paraíso, the official name of the distillery, however. It’s time to change that. Today’s bottling comes from the relatively unknown distillery of Sancti Spiritus. It is the Isla del Ron Cuba 1998 18YO.
When asking people which country they associate most with rum, Cuba is usualy one of the most frequent mentions. Many rum aficionados tend to give different answers. The well known Cuban blends are simply too humdrum for more advanced connoisseurs to be considered as sippers. I don’t want to condemn Cuban rums per se, but there is a reason why they are often used as mixers, most prominently in Cuba Libres. That’s where many of them shine. This perception changed quite a bit when I tried my first single cask bottling from Sancti Spiritus distillery a couple of years ago. That was really different from all the other Cuban rums I knew and appreciated at the beginning of my rum “career”. While I was quite reluctant to order a sample of a Cuban rum back then, I sure didn’t regret it. Sancti Spiritus definitely has a unique characteristic which always reminds me of a special finish, without actually having this finish. At this point, let me only mention the name “Renegade”.
Isla del Ron is the rum series of the German independent Whisky bottler “Malts of Scotland”, who released their first Whiskes in 2009. The first rums have been bottled in 2013. Among them was also the “Isla del Ron Cuba (Sancti Spiritus) 1998 14YO, this rum’s predecessor and perhaps even the first full proof single cask rum from Cuba that made it to Europe. At least I am not aware of an earlier one.
So far we have seen Sancti Spiritus rums from the vintages 1998, 1999 and 2003. I did not get the chance to try one from 2003 yet. While not all of them made a great sipper, they were all vastly superior to most of the official blends coming from the island. I don’t really have an explanation for this as Santero, a rum brand produced at Sancti Spiritus, tastes completly different for example. Even worse, information on the distillery is very sparse and hence we shall leave it at that right now.
Dégustation “Isla del Ron Cuba (Sancti Spiritus) 1998 18YO”
Key Facts: The rum has been distilled by Paraíso distillery in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba in 1998 and bottled at 59,3% right after reaching legal age in 2016. Isla del Ron released 90 bottles of cask #13. I do not know whether they have shared this cask or whether they are holding back the rest for further ageing. I am pretty sure that this comes from a column still but we will try to determine it in the tasting.
Colour and viscosity: Old gold. The rum slowly flows back down in relatively thick streaks. A few thick drops stick to the wall of the glass. The oiliness is appropriate.
Nose: I smell slightly sour green grapes, unripe apples and pistachio. There is also a sweet note in here but I am not sure where it is coming from. Deeper in the glass I get a petty dose of alcohol and small yellow plums, together with a good amount of oak and a hint of vanilla.
Palate: There is almost no sign of alcohol here, quite impressive for almost 60%. The rum has a very light body and can easily be recognised as a column still product. I taste green grapes and sour apples, which give me associations of white wine. This is very similar to the wine-finished rums by Renegade that I have tried. The rum is slightly sour. Later I get a few selected sweet cherries. The flavours are nicely bound together by the notes of oak and vanilla from the cask. There is not too much on the spice-side. Most likely I can surmise nutmeg, with only a whiff of cloves.
Finish: Slightly sour and a little bitter. Medium long and not very spectacular.
The similarities to rums with a wine finish are tremendous. While I have never had a foible for wine finishes, I must say that this rum is not too bad. I never got to try the Renegade Cuba Paraíso 1998 11YO which has been finished in Amarone casks. That would make for an interesting comparison.
It’s certainly a good rum, but the Isla del Ron Cuba 1998 18YO also has two major flaws. It is quite sour, which might deter some people. I do not mind the sourness at all, but I am used to having it paired with more esters and fruity flavours. This is not the case here. The other is its light body. Judged by its aroma palette, this is not your typical Spaniard and a heavier body would have benefited the rum quite well. At Isla del Ron’s asking price, I certainly won’t get a bottle of this and hence I also won’t rate it as a buy. We fortunately have a couple of cheaper alternatives at both, drinking and cask strength. One of them will be reviewed next time. Till then, have a nice week!