I admit it: I am often times bashing Spanish style rums for being flat, boring, too similar to one another and whatnot. Note that I didn’t even mention the increased likelihood of adulteration and misleading age statements. Anyways, our buddy Niki sent me a few blind samples of only Spanish style official bottlings and today we will check them out. I already fear what lies ahead of me… To be honest, my experience with and exposure to these official bottlings has been rather limited (for good reasons) but who knows, maybe we have to rethink our prejudices.
As I usually do it with these blind tastings, I’ll add my post-reveal comments at the end.
Abuelo Centuria 30YO (Panama, 40%): Let’s start. In the nose, I cannot find a whole lot. Sweet tobacco, dry pommegranate, slightly sulphatic notes and hints of candle wax. It’s not bad but doesn’t knock me off my socks either. On the plus side, the alcohol is basically non-existent. This should be 40% at most. The rum is quite sweet but more or less at the borderline to where I’d say it has been sweetened. It’s a bit more sour than the nose and the pommegranate is more dominant now, while the wax and tobacco move a bit further into the back. The sulphatic notes are gone altogether. Indian figs and dark raspberries perhaps as well as a touch of different spices, mostly mild pepper. It’s a decent, well-made rum but it could be more complex for me to enjoy it properly. It reminds me a lot of Don José/ Abuelo, mostly because of the pommegranate.
I didn’t think I get more than one of these roughly right but this is a start. Indeed, it is a solid rum but when I found out about its price it destroyed all potential value for money consideration. With Abuelo, I am quite positive that this really is 30 years old and I credit the company for the subtlety of the bottle and label design. Well done! However, according to Marcus measurement they’ve added 20 g/l of sugar. That’s definitely more than enough to detect it in a tasting. Maybe the time in the cask scaled down the sweetness a bit!? But let’s not look for excuses.
Carta Vieja Golden Cask Solera 18 (Panama, 40%): It’s quite a bit fruitier than the previous one but also quite similar in style. Besides leather, wood and burnt caramel I get pears and lid matches. Oh well… The palate is drier with lots of tobacco and sulphur. With the second sip also brine and the pears again. The alcohol is integrated rather well but nevertheless I do not care much about what I am drinking here. #1 was fuller and creamier in a sense while having a very similar profile. This one however should definitely not be adulterated. But maybe it should be (ouch, did I really just say this!?). Finish: Medium long and slightly fruity with some wood. I don’t like it and I don’t think I would be able to recognise this again in the future. I’m inclined to put this to Panama again but it could be anything.
I believe that this actually is from Panama but I didn’t bother to look up exactly where it is made. Given the similarities with the Abuelo it wouldn’t surprise me if this is also from Don José Distillery. I’d take the Abuelo over this any time, however.
Panama Gran Reserva Especial 21YO (Panama, 40%): This one is relatively flat in the nose with lots of vanilla, subtle oak and some spices perhaps. I cannot find a whole lot more. Eventually there’s a continental fruit basket deep in the background, which gets stronger with more time in the glass. The nose is quite ‘compliant’ but the palate needs to be a lot better in order to push this out of mediocrity. The palate is sweet and reminds me of candyfloss which has been dipped in lime juice. Then the vanilla again but once more, this seems to be it. It’s an interesting combination but the rum is way too sweet and one-dimensional for my liking. Finish: Short with the same notes we’ve found at the palate. I can see why people like this but I cannot recommend it for the reasons mentioned above. This should have been produced somewhere in central America but I don’t have any clue where exactly. Let’s just go with Costa Rica for the funnsies.
This time I couldn’t detect Panama, that’s for sure (but we got close at least). The rum costs pretty much the same as the Abuelo, which means that it loses the direct comparison.
Santa Teresa Bicentenario A.J. Vollmer (Venezuela, 40%): This is the kind of column still rum I like the least, at least in the nose. I get a mix of dark caramel and brine, a combination that almost never works for me. We have to look very hard to find other notes but I can also detect aromas reminiscent of citrus fruits. While I said that the palate needs to be a lot better to push the rum out of mediocrity with #4, here it needs to be a lot better to push it INTO mediocrity. So the palate is better but I am not sure if it is enough. The texture is rather creamy with a very full mouthfeel, which is probably due to additives. Flavourwise, it is about as unnatural and boring as it gets. The sugar masked almost everything that might have been part of the rum and everything seems to be driven by spices and oak, i.e. the influence of the cask. The finish is almost non-existent. I don’t like it at all. Even though the rum is relatively heavy, I think we need to got north to where they produce some of the lighter, messed-up with rums, i.e. the Dominican Republic, but that’s not a whole lot more than guessing randomly.
I always thought Santa Teresa doesn’t add anything to their rums (at least they don’t with the 1796, which is a lot better in my memory) but apparently they did. Marcus detects about 11 g/l of sugar. I could have sworn that this would have been much more than the Abuelo but apparently it is not always that easy.
Barcadi Reserva Limitada (Puerto Rico, 40%): Again a rather sweet one with citrus fruits, oak, caramel and the continental fruit basket. It’s not amazing but more interesting than most of the previous rums. The palate is as sweet as it is light and besides vanilla and some slightly sour fruits I don’t get a lot. The adulteration has destroyed this rum as well but who really knows how good (read bad) it would have been without it. The finish is short and flat with sugar and citrus fruits. Nope, I don’t need this as the rum seems to even get worse with subsequent sips. I am inclined to say Panama again but this is lighter than the previous expressions. I am guessing Puerto Rico or Virgin Islands, without a good knowledge of the corresponding brands.
Do I really have to make a comment here? Mentioning Puerto Rico above was just pure luck, it is just one of the islands I associate with a very light style rum but once again, given the adulteration this could have been anything. To be honest, I am happy that this tasting is over…
Well, thanks a lot Niki for confirming my suspicion/ prejudice that these rums are mostly subpar or mediocre at best. I guess once prejudices are confirmed they stop being prejudices though, right!? Sure, there are exceptions but as we’ve seen time and again, they tend to come from independent bottlers. The Abuelo was solid, despite the additives, and maybe I would not decline a sip of the Panama Reserva Especial but the other rums aren’t made for me to consume straight. I’ll drain them in Cola, I guess. Or what other drinks with these rums can you recommend?