Francisco Montero “50th Anniversary” (40%, 7.000 bottles, 2013, Spain)

Francisco Montero Martin was born on April fools day 1929 in Motil, Grenada, Spain. Motil is unsurprisingly also the place Spanish sugar cane came from. For a long time Francisco dreamed about making Rum, or Ron as it is called in Spain. Finally when in his thirties, in 1963, the year of the demise of JFK, Francisco decided that life is short and started his own Rum-distillery called the Azucarera Montero distillery. Quite a bold move since (domestic) Rum was still unknown in Spain. In 2006, Sugar cane cultivation was seized and one year later, Joaquín Martín Montero, nephew of the founder buys the distillery. His daughter Andrea Martín Targa manages the place, so the business remains in the hands of the family.

Although there is a lot of history concerning sugar cane, the Rum is not distilled from sugar cane juice, but rather from the molasses from the locally grown sugar cane. The cultivation of sugar cane seized in 2006, so the distillery imports molasses made from sugar cane, from Brazil, Egypt, India or Mexico. Sometimes nice molasses from other countries can be brought in as well.

The Rum of Francisco Montero is a light style Rum. Fermentation is done for only 24 to 30 hours and the distillery uses four continuous column stills, of which the first operates under vacuum. This allows for distillation at a lower temperature, claiming less flavour is “boiled off”. However, nothing is said about the conditions provided in the other three columns and their effect on flavour of the final product. Ageing is done exclusively in 500 liter, new American oak casks, configured in a Solera system. And last but not least, in the blending process caramel coloring is done.

Francisco Montero 50th AnniversaryColor: Full Gold.

Nose: A breath of fresh air and a nice floral touch. There is a nice elegant woody nose with an edge of scented paper. Fruity black tea with a little bit of sugar in it. Definitely a molasses based Rum, bot nowhere near the thick and syrupy big Rums. No, it smells refined and elegant without being a completely different Rum, like Agricole. Hints of licorice and more fresh air, but also some wood pulp and breakfast cereals. Sweetness becomes more like a warm liquid of diluted refined sugar. Development in the glass stops rather soon, so after a short while WYSIWYG (What you smell is what you get). I like the floral tough that stays throughout.

Taste: Thin toffee and caramel. Aided by some liquid wood in the background. Lots of warming toffee, vanilla and caramel candy notes. Hints of waxy apple skins and a bitter walnut skin note, but these hints are pushed way back. You have to work for them. Quite unexpected, because the very smart and luxury packaging as well as the speciality of a “50th Anniversary” made me expect something very deep, in part old, and special, just like Abuelo Centuria stands out from the rest of the Abuelo range. This comes across as quite young. Initially very appetizing, with the toffee notes. Towards the finish the taste breaks down a bit. The nice toffee note gets weaker and thinner, and isn’t really replaced by something else. The finish is quite short, and you’re left behind with only an echo of a Rum.

Considering the packaging and the occasion, I was quite disappointed really. I expected a lot more. By its own merits I am disappointed as well. Sure, its a lighter style Rum, but just look at the Cuban Rums I reviewed earlier. The same lighter style but way more happening there. It is all right to sip, but if I would place this according to its merits it would sit right next to the most inexpensive of Abuelo’s, the Añejo, making this Montero way to expensive for what you would get. If you like the style, go for a Cuban.

Points: 78

Havana Club “Selección De Maestros” (45%, Cuba)

Havana Club is the story of José Arechabala y Aldama (Don José). In 1862 the 15yo José moved from Spain to Cuba, and in 1878 he founded the La Vizcaya Rum company in Cárdenas. He changed the name of the company to his own in 1921 and left his son-in-law José Arechabala y Sainz to run the company. In 1923 José passed away and the second José was killed just a year later by kidnappers. Gabriel Malet y Rodriguez took over, but he died already in 1926 to be succeded by Don José’s nephew José Fermín Iturrioz y Llaguno (Josechu). Under Josechu, the Havana Club brand came to be in 1934. Like so many businesses the company was nationalized on the first of january 1960, and the family moved back to Spain and the US. After nationalization, the government changed the name of the distillery into Havana Club. The Cuban government started selling Havana Club Rum in 1972 in Eastern Europe. In 1977 a new factory went into production in Santa Cruz del Norte and a second factory was opened in 2007 in San José. In 1993 the Cuban government signed a deal with Pernod Ricard, where the latter would take upon itself to “sell” Havana Club to the consumer all over the world except for the US, because Bacardi already sells a brand of Rum called Havana Club (made in Puerto Rico) in the US since 1994, after buying the name and recipe from the Arechabala family. Pernod Ricard and Bacardi, both Giants in the drinks business, are fighting over the brand and its use in the US in court ever since…

Havana Club Selección De Maestros (45%, OB, Cuba)Color: Full gold, toffee.

Nose: Just like the Cubay 10yo, this is full on aroma. Again a Rum that jumps at you from the glass, so don’t pour yourself too much at once. Somewhat less creamy and soft, but sharper and seems to have a more pronounced wood nose. A treat to nose, well-balanced but again not the most complex stuff in the world. It’s probably just the Cuban style I guess. Hints of mocha, milk chocolate and hazelnuts. Wood becomes more and more dominant. Pencil shavings and fresh succulent oak, but also a sharp dry oaky smell which transgressed into a more paper and dry leafy note. So lots of oak in the nose. Raw in a good way.

Taste: Yup oak again, but only for a short while. The sweet constituents are quick to take over. Sugar water, and creamy toffee. Quite warming and good length. This has some serious staying power for a Cuban Rum, which is supposed to be light. Quite creamy and some caramel, in a way I like my Havana Cigars. Compared tot the Cubay 10yo, this has 5% more ABV and it shows. Good length and good delivery. Fruity black tea. Overall this isn’t a very complex Rum, but it does have something of a bite and again is very drinkable and loveable. Wood. The pencil shavings from the nose stays behind for the aftertaste.

Definitely in the same style as the Cubay 10yo, but for me it even has more simplicity, which in this case is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember the Cubay has something I liked and couldn’t put my finger on? Well I still haven’t found out what it is, but this Havana Club I like as well. Overall quite nice and drinkable. I love the slightly higher ABV. On the other hand, it’s also a bit raw, good raw, and lacks a bit of complexity and development, which in this case I don’t mind. A bit young, and definitely a lot of fresh oak, but for me this one surpasses the Cubay 10yo in balance. Nice and tasty stuff but maybe a wee bit too expensive.

Points: 83

Cubay 10yo “Reserva Especial” (40%, Cuba)

Ron Cubay was founded in 1964 in Santo Domingo, which is some 25o km’s to the east of Havana. The Cubay rum is produced in the Cuba Ron distillery, which also produces… yes you’ve guessed it: Havana Club. Cigar lovers will already recognize the marketing plan similar to that of Cohiba, and later, the Trinidad brand. The Ron Cubay brand was intended for domestic consumption only. But soon after taking a course in marketing and dare I say it: capitalism (I’m just kidding), it became apparent it was time to export the next Cuban brand, so the Ron Cubay was first exported only five years ago, in 2010. I just don’t know if the Cubay brand was shrouded in the same kind of mystery as Cohiba and especially Trinidad (as Fidel’s private brand).

The full range of Ron Cubay consists of five variants of which only three are exported. The 3yo “Carta Blanca” (a White Rum), the 7yo “Anejo” and the 10yo “Reserva Especial”. They found the 4yo “Carta Dorada” and the 5yo Anejo Suave” a bit obsolete and settled for the 3yo, the 7yo and 10yo. Ron Cubay is produced with Cuban molasses from sugar cane. In Cuba it is illegal to use imported molasses for making Cuban Rum. Cubay is distilled with a column still. The 10yo I’m about to taste is fully matured in American white oak casks of different sizes and levels of char.

Cubay 10yo Reserva EspecialColor: Orange gold, toffee.

Nose: Aromatic and sweet, creamy and buttery. This flies out of my glass. Citrussy and fresh. Hints of oranges and fermented apple-juice. Light black tea with a splash of lemon. Vanilla latex paint. All of this is mixed with quite some wood, but in no way is the wood overpowering. Its soft and soothing, sometimes meaty and only gives a spicy backbone. Mixed in with the wood, some aged Calvados and honeyed sugar-water. So the apply part is growing. Altogether fruity and if you want it, there is some florality as well. Great balance. A lovely nose.

Taste: Fruity and very appetizing. Toffee and hard coffee candy. Some wood upfront, but even less than in the nose. Quite warming, and when the first sip goes down a more dry woody residue stays behind in my mouth. Woody and licorice. Again not overpowering. The start of the body is the best part for me, quite some vanilla combined with a tasty fruitiness. The development into the finish is eventful. Something is happening. The finish has medium length, with a hint of walnut bitterness, and has a tendency to fall apart a bit into the wood spice and an acidic fruity part. This is much less pronounced than in the Abuelo 12yo, where the acidic fruity part bothered me a bit. Sugar water again, and after a while it’s gone. The aftertaste shows this has been in wood for 10 years. I would say the bitterness is slightly hoppy now. More pronounced and velvety and less fatty than the initial walnut bitterness.

Nice stuff and dangerously drinkable. Especially in the taste not overly complex, but just tasty. Although this has quite some aromatics it has the strength of the scent of a flower, so I’m not sure if you should use this as a mixer. I know for sure it will do well as a nipper. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I really like it. Recommended.

Points: 82

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

Abuelo Añejo Reserva Especial (40%, Panama)

When looking around on the internet you can see that Ron Abuelo from Panama is a very hip and foremost sexy brand of Rum. When Rum is presented by women in underwear and swimwear, I have no problem with that at all, non, nice, I like that. Thus no complaints for me. But underneath I’m also a sort of distillation geek, and that side of me is a bit worried. If Ron Abuelo is actually a good Rum, why then is so much effort put into distracting the public from the Rum itself?

Abuelo has four Rums in its portfolio. We’re about to try this Añejo, but there is also a 7yo, a 12yo and finally there is also a Centuria. The first three are all reasonably priced and make up the standard range. Centuria is a bit more expensive and something of a speciality. I’m telling you upfront, prices for the Centuria will be rising soon.

Abuelo AnejoColor: Gold with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Light, sweet and young. Sugar water. A slight hint of wood, leather and cinnamon, but also a coastal note. Very smooth smelling. Whiffs of fresh air. Light scent of fresh-cut flowers, immediately followed by a more meaty component. Gravy. Also notes of candy powder and red fruit gums.

Taste: Very light and sugary. Not a lot of character yet. Add to that a wee bit of oak and that is what you get. Sweetish, but not sweet. Warming with hints of licorice and a slight woody bitterness, to give it some back bone. Quite light and in the distance it sometimes reminds me of cane juice (Rum). Toffee. The entry into the mouth is light, and the body is not any heavier. Funny enough, after swallowing, the Rum starts to work. Its warming and shows some heat from young Rum. Peppery note from the wood.

The entry-level offering is really an entry-level Rum. Very light, young and pretty simple. No off notes, so that’s a plus. Yes you can sip this, and keep doing this for a long time f.i. when playing cards with your friends. This is a Rum that probably is made for cocktails and similar uses. Its alright, but not as exciting as the girls selling it. I hope the rest of the range is better. Actually it’s not bad, but it is what it is. A very affordable, very light young Rum.

Points: 78