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!

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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

Rum Nation Panama 18yo (40%, Single Domaine Rum, Release 2010, Panama)

All four Ron Abuelo’s have been reviewed now, but there is still one ace up my sleeve. An independent release of an Abuelo Rum. Lance (The Lone Caner) reviewed this very same Rum and mentions this is an Abuelo Rum, so let’s go with that. Rum Nation is the Rum brand of Italia’s one and only Fabio Rossi, most of us also know from the Independent Whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan. Fabio also has a passion for Rum and is able to source some very special Rums for his own label. Besides this 18yo, Rum nation also has a 21yo Panamanian Rum, which according to Lance, even surpasses the Centuria in quality. I have the 21yo in storage somewhere, so I’ll probably review that one too in the near future.

Rum Nation Panama 18yoColor: Reddish orange brown.

Nose: Powdery and dusty. Radish (Rettich). Cold gravy and leather. Laid back, and yes, still middle of the roadish. Soft old oak. Soaked oak. Lots of toffee and custard. Some sulphur and a meaty note come flying by after a while in the glass. Next some smoky honey, white pepper and candied lemon skins and bitter oranges.

Taste: Half sweet toffee and some wood. Sweetish and the typical Abuelo red fruity acidity is in this one too. Better integrated than in the 12yo. The body has quite some wood and spicy wood, licorice. but the wood is still soft. The end of the body and the finish tell you more. The wood stays on and becomes more spicy, the Rum gets a bit hot for a while, finally some action! Red peppers, and somehow it lacks a bit of complexity. The finish itself is rather short. When I come to think of it, the spicy bite seems to be a bit sulphury. But the finish is about wood and its light walnut skin bitterness.

Quite soft and well-behaved for a 18yo Rum, and quite inexpensive to boot. You know Rums in the hot Caribbean age quite quickly, so when a Rum is still so smooth and easily drinkable after 18 years is quite a feat. I have made quite a dent in this bottle already, and I’m still trying to figure out what it’s all about. It is in part similar to the 7yo and 12yo Abuelo offerings. The heritage is apparent, but it is all a bit to anonymous for me, it doesn’t bring a smile to my face, as in great, I love this, I need more of this. I can easily live without the Añejo, the 7yo and the 12yo, heck, even the 18yo I can do without. The Centuria, however, is from another Panamanian planet and is the proof great Rums can also be made in Panama. I’m wondering about the Rum Nation 21yo now…

Points: 81

Abuelo Centuria Reserva de la Familia (40%, Panama)

You thought I was finished with Abuelo, no? Nope, there is still another Abuelo available. The Centuria was released in 2011, one year after the 12yo in celebration of the distillery’s centennial. It is said to be a blend of the Varela family’s own private reserves. Hmmm, holding on to the best stuff for private use aren’t we? Luckily they have found it in their hearts to share a part of it with the world. For this Rum, only estate-grown sugarcane is used, which could mean that for the other three versions also Rum from molasses may have been used or sugarcane grown elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with that. The Rum was aged in a solera system for up to three decades and matured in American Whiskey barrels (Probably Jack Daniels). 3.000 bottles were produced. For such a limited quantity run, it is quite special that this hasn’t sold out yet. Maybe 3.000 bottles were initially released, but more were made since.

Abuelo CenturiaColor: Dark brown, PX Sherry.

Nose: Fantastic old oak. Dark chocolate. Creamy vanilla and a slightly acidic note. Leather and dark organics. Spicy and hints of orange skins. Gingerbread spices with dried oranges. Sometimes this nose reminds me of a very old Single Malt Whisky. The nose is always centered around the many different wood notes. The wood changes, but will never let you down. It’s the centerpiece, its like nosing the wooden interior of the ball-room of the Titanic (before it sank). You’d almost dress up to nose this.

Taste: Ahh now we’re talking. Coal and tar. Great interaction between dry oak and half sweet, slightly burnt sugar and caramel. Creamy even. Long finish with soft old oak, gingerbread spices and some licorice. Polished furniture. In the distance there is the fresh and acidic fruit. Here it is pushed back a little (by spicy wood) and thus aids the overall taste. In the 12yo this fruit is up-front and ruins the whole balance with its strange acidity. In this one they got it right. I would say, back to the drawing board with the 12yo! Lots of old Rum in this one, but blended masterfully not to let the oak dominate. Not sure if it’s all solera though.

This is hands down the best of the bunch. Even at this price point. It costs about as much as four bottles of the 12yo, today at least, but I expect it to be even more expensive in the near future. However, this is still the one to get. The other three are decent Rums, but each of them can be replaced by many others. A bit anonymous? So, nothing special compared to the Centuria. The Centuria is fantastically unique and is worth its price, even at 40% ABV.

Points: 89

Abuelo Añejo 12 Años Gran Reserva (40%, Panama)

We have already tried the Reserva Especial (Añejo) and the Reserva Superior (7yo), and I have to say, they didn’t lie bout them. The 7yo is most definitely superior to the Añejo (which is a NASser). Both are clear examples of the Panamanian Rum style, the first young and light, the second a lot more aromatic and letting the wood shine through. Not bad. Let’s see if the 12yo, called Gran Reserva is even better than the 7yo…

Abuelo 12Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Spicy and deep. Even more dry and dusty than the Añejo. Hot, almost burning wood. Nice deep fruity acidity. Pineapple. Nice touch of orange and a tiny hint of solvent. Nice wood and sawdust. Winey and PX-Sherry. Caramel. Waxed dark chocolate sprinkles. Less vibrant and sweet than the Añejo.

Taste: Thick and syrupy. Ahorn syrup. A little bit sweeter than the 7yo, but still not much. There is some wood spice in here, which is left behind in the finish. Quite warming. Alas this 12yo also has a fault. It has this (rotting) fruity aroma and acidity and this syrupy sweetness, but those two don’t match! One is on top of the other, and they are never completely integrated. The acidity has more staying power than the sweetness, which is also a bit strange. This is where this Rum goes slightly wrong. Next up the wood. That is the third dimension that isn’t properly integrated. It’s like a succesful band of which the members can’s stand each other. Beatles White album maybe? However, for me Abuelo isn’t The Beatles, but more The Moody Blues. Beautiful music, maybe, but also a bit boring. In this case, the Moody Blues don’t like each other very much.

As the age rises, there is more of everything, more aroma, more consistency, more color (maybe E150?) and more wood, but is it also better? Not for me.

Now that we have tried the three Rums that make up the standard range we can conclude that the Añejo is the simple and light one, meant for mixing. The 7yo is also quite light, but is suitable for sipping. Also the 7yo is the best balanced of the three. The 12yo is the sipper, at least, its meant to be the sipper. The 12yo is alas a bit unbalanced, but shows a lot of promise. I hope for a better balanced blend in the near future.

Points: 81

Abuelo Añejo 7 Años Reserva Superior (40%, Panama)

After the affordable and very light young Añejo Reserva Especial, comes this 7yo Reserva Superior. And as luck would have it, I have the 7yo right here on my lectern, and I’ll review it shortly. First a short history lesson:

The history of the Ron Abuelo brand is actually the history of Varela Hermanos. It starts in 1908, when the Spanish immigrant Don José Varela Blanco established the first sugar mill in Pesé. Panama is then a fairly new country, since it just gained independence from Colombia in 1903. In 1936 Don José started distilling sugar cane juice. In 1976 Don José’s distillery was replaced by a new one that was surprisingly called the Don José distillery. Besides Ron Abuelo, also other spirits are made in the stainless steel column still.

Abuelo 7yoColor: Orange gold.

Nose: Floral and fruity, yet light. Dry and dusty. More dry wood in the mix, but still not a lot. Vanilla powder, toffee and a touch of honey. Luke warm sugar-water. Vanillin from oak. Slightly spicy, balanced and light. Latte Macciato with mocha sprinkles. Appetizing but not very complex.

Taste: Fruity and instantly very nice. Nice half-sweetness matches with the right amount of oak. Fruity and waxy. Toffee, but also a tiny bite. Toasted cask I would say. Much fuller and thicker than the Añejo, but still not very heavy. That’s the Panamanian style of Rum making. This time also an apply, fruity acidity, and sometimes a slight bitter note towards the finish. However, I don’t pick up on those, every time I try this. Nice and easy, no frills and certainly a decent Rum. A little bit of sour oak lingers on in the finish and somewhat later even some menthol.

As far as I know, this is not a lot more expensive than the entry-level Añejo. That one seems to be made for mixing, whereas this one is made to be drunk by itself, or maybe with an ice-cube. It has more going for it than the Añejo and is also nice for mixing, but why should you. Well made, a bit middle of the road and still pretty light. No faults and no off-notes. This may very well be the definition of Panamanian Rum.

Points: 82