Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)

Don José you might ask? “I know only of Panamanian Rums called Abuelo”. Well, Don José is the distillery owned by Varela Hermanos. Abuelo is a Panamanian Rum brand owned by…Varela Hermanos. You do the math. Earlier I reviewed a very nice Rhum from Guadeloupe bottled by Isla del Ron, The Rum outlet of Thomas Euers, Whisky people know better from his independently bottled Whiskies under his Malts of Scotland label. Both the Rums from Abuelo, and the Isla del Ron label, need no further introduction, so why waste any more words on this introduction when both need no introduction? In case you’re wondering, the introduction is now over.

Don José 12yo 2003/2015 (53.6%, Isla del Ron, IdR 012, 252 bottles, Panama)Color: Gold.

Nose: Thick and cloying. Extremely creamy. Cream, vanilla pudding. Vanilla ic-cream and butterscotch. Yes this is an Abuelo all right, but it’s also different. Next come some hints of old, dried out leather and even Whisky. Dust and a pronounced woody backbone, add some balance to the overly creamy nose. I also get an edge of paper, right next to the wood. Oak, paper and powdered aspirin. Had I nosed this blind, and after some breathing, I might not have guessed this was an Abuelo though, because it reminds me now even more of Foursquare. Doorly’s 12yo for example. (…so I pulled up the Doorly’s 12yo and had a sniff. Yep quite similar at first, although the Doorly’s has an additional winey note, and is less creamy. The similarities are becoming less obvious, when the Doorly’s gets some time to breathe and develops in the glass. It develops even more of the acidity mentioned earlier than the “Abuelo”, go figure).

Taste: Yeah now we’re talking. Always wanted to know how an Abuelo would taste at a higher strength, well, here is your chance. Definitely less creamy than the official outings. And guess what, and you might want to read my other reviews of Abuelo, this one doesn’t have the discrepant fruity acidity on top. Again notes of paper, cardboard and quite some wood and burned wood. Those notes add some bitterness to the whole. Almonds. By the way, it is slightly soapy as well, and has a slightly (bitter) Beer-like finish. Now you don’t get that in a regular Abuelo now, don’t you. The bitterness does however dominate the aftertaste. Surprising.

Again, like with many Abuelo’s, something seems to be not quite right, and I mean it suffers a bit in the “balance” department. Usually it is the fruity acidity that doesn’t reach the synergy needed, but this time it is a less fruity and a more waxy note that seems to be a bit off and unwilling to cooperate. Nevertheless this is a minor fault compared to the acidity-problem in other Abuelo’s. This particular expression is all about the wood. You can say it its wood driven and has this quite unusual bitterness. Is that bad? Well, it’s not overpowering, so it doesn’t ruin the Rum, it is quite upfront, so if you like your woods, you are going prefer this one over the regular Abuelo’s, that’s for sure. It has a higher ABV, and you do notice that, but not as much as expected. I don’t find it hot or too high in alcohol. Nope, it’s still quite easily drinkable.

Points: 83

De nuevo muchas gracias señor Rik!

Port Morant 6yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, GYA, Tempranillo Finish, Guyana)

Why review only one Renegade when you can do two for twice the price? The previous review was about a Jamaican Rum finished in Tempranillo casks. Tempranillo is a blue grape variety used for an excellent Spanish Red Wine. We know that Jamaican Rums have a big or heavy style, a. k. a. high ester Rum, however, we found that it just barely coped with the Tempranillo finish, which was able to hijack the Rum a bit. We know of another big and heavy Rum-style. Demerara. how would that perform? Today we’ll have a look how an almost similarly young Demerara will do. It’s not just any Demerara, it’s a Port Morant! So another Renegade, another big young Rum and another Tempranillo cask, those will be the ingredients of this review. Again, I expect an interesting Rum, out-of-the-box just like the Renegade Monymusk. Will this one taste better?

port-morant-6yo-42-renegade-rum-company-gya-temperanillo-finish-guyanaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Right out of the gate, this is Port Morant alright. Typical Demerara. From memory, but for a brief moment only, somewhat similar smelling to the Plantation Guyana I reviewed earlier. Where that one seemed to have a sweeter start (added sugar), this one has a big dusty, nutty and vegetal component added to it. Changing instantaneously. It seems to me already, both the Jamaican Rum and the Demerara I have in my glass now, react quite differently to the Tempranillo cask. Here it gives off a clear Grappa aroma. Know your distillates people. Venture off the beaten path sometimes. It will make for a better experience. Interesting. Both turn dry in no time at all. Some oak and vanilla, so I’m guessing that, at least one of the casks used was made from American oak. Being the original cask the Rum was matured in or the cask that held the Tempranillo Wine. Probably both. Quite fruity. Fresh pineapple for sure and some less pronounced, yet creamy, citrussy notes as well. Spicy oak combined with thick and juicy almonds and pudding. After letting this breathe for a while it almost smells like a Single Malt Whisky matured in a Bourbon cask. Just like the Jamaican Renegade, this is a nice, although a bit out of the ordinary, smelling Rum. I hope the palate will be better this time around, compared to the Monymusk.

Taste: Not very sweet Demerara, not in a big way, well, quite dry actually. Again a Rum that chances quickly in the glass. The Tempranillo is immediately a bit overpowering and I can’t say it does wonders for this Rum. Next a flinty note that doesn’t seem right. Paper, cardboard and Grappa come next. Lots of Grappa actually, with some fruity and Wine-like notes. So expect hay, dry grass and a very dry taste. Definitely still recognizable as a Port Morant on the nose, but in no way, here in the taste. As I said earlier, overpowered by the Wine finish.Funky Wine cask finish you also got from the first batch of Whiskies being finished in Wine casks. By now in the Whisky-world they have mastered finishing in ex-Wine casks, but Rum is a different puppy ‘eh Jim? Quite big into the finish, but a quick break-down afterwards, making the finish medium at best. I hoped that this one would taste better than the slightly disappointing Monymusk I reviewed before this one, alas, here the experiment is even less interesting, although not a totally failed effort. There is something to be learned here, but I’m not sure what exactly…

Well, I hoped this would do better, but in fact it worked even less for me. If you know your Grappa’s than this one will interest you for sure. I know a lot of people raise their eyebrows when tasting (their first) Grappa. Definitely an acquired taste, even more so than a Rummy, acquiring the taste of Rhum Agricole. When I tried to taste the Port Morant right after the Monymusk, well all I can say, don’t do that. Doesn’t work either…

Points: 78

Monymusk 5yo (46%, Renegade Rum Company, JMA, Tempranillo Finish, Jamaica)

Renegade Rum Company. What might that be? If you are familiar with Single Malt Whiskies, then the name Bruichladdich should mean something to you. In fact it will mean the world, since it is one of the famous Whiskies from the Isle of Islay. Home of the best peated Whiskies in the world, only historically, Bruichladdich is more famous for its unpeated Whiskies than for their peated Whiskies. To put an end to that, master distiller Jim McEwan started to make Port Charlotte, a heavily peated Single Malt Whisky (around 40 ppm phenols) and the astronomically peated Octomore (up to 258 ppm, which is a lot more than 40 ppm). There is no normal way to peat Whisky that high, so in comes the skill of Jim. Bruichladdich is also the home of The Botanist Gin, made up with botanicals from Islay, and also of Renegade Rum. Jim supposedly hand-picked casks of Rum and hand-picked Wine casks to finish those Rums in. Expect relatively young Rums, all finished in some sort of Wine cask. All reduced to 46% ABV, in my book better than the usual 40% ABV. Anything below 40% I don’t even consider buying if I have to be honest. In everything Jim does he pushes the envelope, so prepare yourself, as will I, for an unusual Rum experience…

monymusk-5yo-42-renegade-rum-company-jma-temperanillo-finish-jamaicaColor: Light gold.

Nose: Yep, funky Jamaican style. I love the high ester quality it has to it. Easy to recognize. Fresh cookie dough. Extremely creamy. Already the promise of a cloying syrupy Rum. Wait a minute… A drier note emerges. Old raisins and some wood. There is a note here I struggled for a while to identify, so common, but what is it? Its Grappa! The Temperanillo cask infused a Grappa note to this Rum. Grassy, hay-like. Clay, butter candy and a more vegetal note. If you have ever sticked your nose in the hole of an empty Red Wine cask, you’ll recognize its strong spicy notes in this Rum as well. Nice and quite unusual for a Rum. Amazing how the finish is taking over the Rum when you let it breathe for a while. When nosing this the high ester Jamaican smell is retreating quickly (move it around a bit so it gets some more air, and it briefly returns). With the Grappa nota also a more nutty aroma emerges as well as some warm butter. So it starts big, funky and creamy but after a while it has this well-balanced dryness combined with a nice warm butter note. This is the most two-faced Rum I have smelled untill now. A bit unusual, but I like it. Pushing the envelope a bit. If you love Grappa, you’ll love this nose.

Taste: Here the funky part is even shorter. Upon entering your mouth, for a brief moment, you think you are drinking a typical and clean and simple example of a Jamaican Rum, but it turns around rather quickly. Lots of wood and heaps of acidic woody notes followed by strange red fruit acidity from stale Wine. It doesn’t have the taste of wood itself though. It also lacks the bitterness of clean wood. No, its different. What it also lacks is the Grappa I found on the nose, for some that is a good thing, but it also makes for a somewhat unbalanced Rum. Well it’s not really a Rum either, especially a Jamaican Rum. What it does have is some nice exotic spices, dare I say Indian again? Also slightly soapy and floral, and it has some notes of Foursquare as well, which is a Rum, although not Jamaican. A long time after swallowing, a very discrepant winey, acidic and fruity note re-appears, combined with toasted cask, well hidden into the background. Can’t really say that the finish is well-balanced. It’s like a race where all the competitors cross the finish well apart from each other, running different distances as well. So unbalanced it is, and definitely the weakest part of the whole experience.

This bottle is clearly an experiment. Where for me it works wonders on the nose, it doesn’t actually work that well when tasting it. Somehow the finish overpowers the young Jamaican Rum. Maybe this experiment would have worked better if the Jamaican Rum was older, bigger, more of a match to the Tempranillo?

So there it is. I love Jamaican Rum to death, I love Jim McEwan and I love a good experiment, and that is what experiments are for. You try something that is usually out-of-the-box. It might work or not. Here it clearly works on the nose, but less so on the taste. So not the best of Rums around, and the score will reflect that, but because of its out-of-the-box-ness I still would buy one, although many of the Renegades are sold out by now…

Points: 81

Clément 10yo 2003/2013 Trés Vieux Rhum Agricole (42.8%, Bourbon Cask #0310054, Vanille Intense, 459 bottles, 50 cl, Martinique)

Alas, my 100% Canne Bleue version of a single cask Clément is almost gone. Damn small those 50cl bottles. I said I liked the smaller size of these bottles, because it would give us the chance to buy a bottle from another cask. True, but when they are as good as the first one, less definitely is not more. So what should I replace it with? Well, what about another version from Cléments single cask series. Yup, let’s do that. Sounds like a good idea. In comes the second version released: “Vanille Intense”. I don’t know about you, but somehow I’m expecting a R(h)um that is full of, well, vanilla notes. Where the previous one was all about the Canne Blue sugar cane variety, this time it’s all about the wood, or at least so I imagine. Sure R(h)um by itself can have enough notes of Vanilla, but here, I guess, it’s also the vanillin that came into the mix by way of the wood of the cask. It’s from a Bourbon cask, so American oak, which gives off vanilla notes to enhance the vanilla notes from the R(h)um. Expect intense vanilla notes.

By the way, a third version has been released recently, called “Moka Intense”. Interesting, but lets not get ahead of ourselves, and have a go at this “Vanille Intense” first, shall we?

clement-vanille-intenseColor: Copper golden brown.

Nose: Cookie dough. Luke-warm sweetened black tea. Vanilla. Only after this creamy start, the typical Rhum Agricole notes emerge, although throughout the whole experience, they are pushed back well into the background. So we are definitely in the territory of some active Bourbon casks here. Floral, honey and licorice. Nice (Indian) spicy wood, plywood and pencil shavings, although I don’t think they have used the latter two for this Rhum. Well integrated, a faint, but nice and sweet red fruit aroma. Leather and quite dusty. Next comes the sweetness, brown sugar and slightly warm toffee. This one really gives it up in layers. Is the vanilla intense? Well, not as much as the label suggested, but it is definitely a smoother and sweeter smelling Rhum, compared to its 100% Canne Bleue sister. It’s not the vanilla ice-cream I somehow expected. For me, especially the elegant woody notes are the best. Quite a nice nose, almost not a Rhum Agricole, but I like it!

Taste: Very soft, dull, dusty and sugary sweet. Simple. Warm sugar syrup with pencil shavings, cardboard and indian spices. Toasted cask. Lots of diluted toffee, watery caramel, licorice and vanilla. Spicy backbone from the oak, even a slight bitter vegetal note, with a late return of sugar. You can really taste the pencil shavings now. Remarkably soft and simple compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version. So it’s not about the vanilla after all. They just picked smooth, creamy, sweet and simple casks to avoid the potential rawness of the previous version I guess. Short finish as well, where the woody bitterness has the longest staying power. A bit disappointing really. Where the J.M 2002 and the Clément 100% Canne Bleue had something extra, this Vanille Intense does not. I think the Rum Nation Martinique Hors d’Âge is just as good and way more affordable.

Compared to the 100% Canne Bleue version, this one is less raw. More civilized and simple. Also toned down a bit. The 100% Canne Bleue seems to explode with aroma. Dare I say that the Vanille Intense is a bit boring? I just did, didn’t I? I don’t know if the lower ABV has something to do with it, or maybe it is just the profile of this Rhum. Also remember these are single cask bottlings and there should be a difference from cask to cask. Going on these two I will probably buy another bottle, bottled from a different cask, of the 100% Canne Bleue version (Brown label) and pass up on another Vanille Intense (Green label). Don’t get me wrong, the green ‘un is still good, but not as good as the brown ‘un…

Points: 85

Presidente Solera 23 Años (40%, Dominican Republic)

There are probably more Rum brands in the world than there are people, which makes the Rum world less transparent than, lets say, the Scottish Single Malt Whisky industry. Remember the reviews I wrote about Malecon? Malecon is a brand and not a distillery. Malecon is a Brand of PILSA. A Panamanian company which is known for its Cuban master blender: Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez Perez. Malecon is Rum made in the Cuban tradition. Well, something like this is also true for the Presidente brand. Presidente is made the Cuban way in the Dominican Republic by Oliver & Oliver and just like PILSA, Oliver & Oliver make, and own, a lot of brands of Rum, like Cubaney, Opthimus, Puntacana and Quorhum, to name but a few. They also make Rums like Atlantico and Tres Hombres, for other brand owners. Oliver & Oliver will make even Rum for third-party brand owners. If you and me want to put out a Rum together, Oliver & Oliver will be happy to oblige, but so would PILSA and many others around the world.

We’ll encounter may Rums in the future that are made by Oliver & Oliver, so more about them next time. Their website is more down than up these days, so lets find out who this guy on the label is. It is José Julián Martí Pérez (1853-1898), a big national hero in Cuba. Amongst other things he is known as a writer, poet and journalist, but foremost as a political activist. He fought for Cuba’s independence against Spain, traveling the world to spread the gospel of political and intellectual independence and was the architect of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. The Cubans fought three wars against Spain for independence, and in the third and final war (1895-1898), during the battle of Dos Ríos, Martí was killed. Martí helped planning and execution of this war. After his death one of his poems was turned into the song Guantanamera (which is probably a Rum brand by now).

Presidente 23Color: Dark brown, slightly mahogany.

Nose: Big, initially sweet and syrupy, but quickly some dry woody aromas emerge as well. Old cabinet with faint smell of dried out lavender soap. Hints of cured meat, dust and toned down sawdust. Very closed actually and it comes across as one big aroma which makes it hard to detect distinct markers for this Rum. I have seen that before in Whisky when a lot of caramel colouring is done. I’m guessing from the smell that this has seen some sugar added to it. Sweet biggish smell with some dry spicy wood. Sweet black tea. Yet overall lacking some depth, so not all that old I guess. In fact it smells a bit like a El Dorado 12yo light, which also saw some added sugar. If you need to refresh your knowledge about the Solera System at this point, please read the introduction to this review. Nevertheless a very nice smelling Rum.

Taste: Sweet caramel, dry wood, slightly bitter spicy wood and plywood. Sitting near the fireplace in winter, when the air outside is crisp and sharp. Toffee, lots of vanilla and sugared cacao. Burnt sugar, and the aroma of burning paper. A touch of glycol. Because this has hints of burnt sugar and burnt wood, the sweetness is well hidden but unmistakably there. Big aroma. On top a nice well-integrated, slightly acidic fruitiness, which balances out the Rum. Just enough. Honey and licorice. The finish is rather cloying, another sign of added sugar, and surprisingly sees the soapy note from the nose return. The finish is of at least medium length, with quite a warming quality to it. Again a Rum that suffered a bit by reduction to 40% ABV.

This Rum is pretty sweet and these days, added sugar is like swearing in the church of Rum. And rightly so. Although Rum is made from molasses and sugar cane, adding sugar is something else. Sure, lots of Rum drinkers love their Rums sweet, but for that we have liqueur. Calling Rums like these just “Rum” is a bit confusing and to be honest, misleading. We already have the Spiced Rum category, why not add a Sugared Rum category. As a Sugared Rum this is not bad. It does taste nice, and although it has its flaws, I do quite like it.

Points: 85

Malecon Seleccion Esplendida 1979 (40%, Panama)

Why not make it a Malecon, double bill? In the previous review I had a look at the 25yo brother/sister of this Rum, called the Reserva Imperial, and was surprised by its youthful, vibrant quality, I somehow didn’t expect of a 25yo Rum. The label mentions: Rum made in the Cuban style (a light style), although hailing from Panama. For me the Rum also suffered a bit by its reduction to 40% ABV, where clearly this should have been a bit higher to “carry” the Rum. Today we’ll have a look at an Seleccion Esplendida from 1979, what should be an exceptional vintage Rum. This one was bottled in 2008, but I am not sure. I gather, Las Cabres de Pese wasn’t working in 1979 so I’m guessing this was distilled at Varela Hermanos S.A. as well. My only fear is again the 40% ABV…

Before I set off, if you are interested more about the Malecon brand and some of its history, I ask you to read the lengthy introduction to the previous review of the Malecon 25yo.

malecon-1979Color: Orange brown, slightly lighter than the 25yo.

Nose: Drier. Spicy and reeks of higher quality. After only smelling it once I already like it a lot better than both Malecons I reviewed earlier. Thus, we are going into the right direction. Nice fruity acidity, better balanced and integrated compared to the 25yo. Hints of Aspirin powder and nice dry oak. Again a meaty quality like the 25yo, but this time it makes my mouth water. Dry cured meat, beef jerky and some cold gravy. Vanilla is next and quite present. Oak driven vanilla. This smells so good, I’d almost wear it as a perfume.

Taste: Well this doesn’t seem so reduced as the 25yo. Alas the fruity acidity is present, but in a less integrated way as the nose. Fruity black tea? Quite some dry wood spiciness as well, and from the start you see this has some sweetness to it, but that is well overpowered by the dry aroma’s. I don’t think they sugared this one up, guys! If so, its masked rather well. it has some bitter notes as well, but they help the whole. Even the bitterness in the finish is not hurting the Rum at all. Apart from this, some nice toffee notes stay behind next to the woody and bitter notes. Again, just like the 25yo, the finish is short, and again, this was probably reduced too much. Bugger!

We are entering super premium territory now, since today this 1979 costs about tree times more than the 25yo. Is it worth that kind of money? It is definitely a step up from both other Malecons, but for a Rum in general, it lacks complexity. It’s basically a bit too simple, to be honest. The nose promised a lot, but the taste didn’t deliver what could have been. Stop diluting it so much! I feel both the 25yo and especially the 1979 are a bit overpriced for what you are getting. Nice just isn’t enough anymore, especially at these prices, so I can’t really recommend both of them.

Points: 84

Malecon Reserva Imperial 25yo (40%, Panama)

Malecon was featured almost four years ago on Master Quill with a very light 12yo Reserva Superior. We’re four years on and still it is quite hard to find any information about the brand. What we know is that the Rum comes from Panama and that it is made in the cuban style, as stated on the Malecon labels. So its safe to hazard a guess and say that the Rum is probably made by the people behind the Abuelo brand, although they themselves don’t put “Cuban style” on their labels, so maybe they make this in a different way, or is it just a matter of cask selection?

don-panchoThe brand, as well as Malteco, is owned by Caribbean Spirits and worldwide distribution lies with Italian outfit Savio s.r.l. owned by jet-setting spirits importer Marco Savio. Although the Savio website isn’t completely clear, I’m guessing that Caribbean Spirits is also owned by Savio. We can also read that Marco hooked up with the legendary Cuban Rum-maker, Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez Perez. We know Don Pancho is Cuban, and we also know that he worked a long time as master blender at Varela Hermanos S.A. in Panama (Abuelo). So now you can do the math about Malecon.

Don Pancho is also the blender for Ron de Jeremy (and probably many other Rums). Since 2000, Don Pancho oversees production in the resurrected Panamanian distillery, Las Cabres de Pese, owned by Proveedora Internacional de Licores, S.A. (PILSA), located not far from the distillery of Varela Hermanos, so it is possible that younger expressions of Malecon are produced at Las Cabres than at Varela, but I’m only guessing here.

PILSA is also responsible for Panama Red, Caña Brava, Selvarey and the Origenes Rums and boast producing Rums in the Cuban style. Rums like Zafra, Panamonte, Debonaire and Bohemio are also produced at Las Cabres de Pese although the brands are owned by other companies than PILSA. PILSA’s Origenes Rum is marketed as “the ultimate expression of Don Pancho´s vision and a lifetime dedicated to the production of the world´s finest rums”, So cheers to that and Don Pancho, who seems to be responsible for our Malecon 25yo as well…

malecon-25-reserva-imperialColor: Copper brown orange.

Nose: It starts out with glue, and yes this does remind me more than a bit of Abuelo. Fruity and also the Abuelo 7 yo’s acidity. Next some cereal and vegetal notes. Cookies and fudge. Dry leaves and a little bit of hay. Sawdust. Hints of gravy even. Maybe herein lies the age? A very vibrant Rum nevertheless, because I expected a more dark and brooding Rum after 25 years in wood. It doesn’t even have a particularly woody aroma and does smell a bit sweet and syrupy. Toffee and runny caramel.

Taste: On entry a decent but very diluted taste. This type of Rum does need a bit of strength to it, but at 40% ABV. It completely lost its oomph. I hope this isn’t the way they want to reach cuban lightness, because it doesn’t taste like a Cuban Rum at all. If I want a Cuban Rum right now, I’d rather have me a Cubay. Its obvious right now that the Metodo Tradicional Cubano mentioned on the label refers to Don Panchos schooling! Back to Panana then, as did Don Pancho. Again I smell this Rum has a lot in common with Abuelo, but not with the Abuelo Centuria, which also consists of some pretty old Rums. No it smells and taste younger than the 25yo it is. There are some burnt notes, burnt wood (cask) and burnt sugar, giving the Rum a nice backbone and some character. Still, the Abuelo fruity acidity lies on top. Short finish, leaving hardly any aftertaste.

Tasting this I would definitely say Abuelo, although not such an old one. How funny would it be if it wasn’t an Abuelo! It tastes like an Abuelo to me, just watered down too much. Did they think they would scare the public with some more alcohol, or was it an economical decision? At least it not very expensive for the age.

Points: 82