Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ron Matusalem, 15-year Gran Reserva

The tale of a family can almost always be counted on to be filled with mystery, intrigue and a litany of interesting characters. Rare is the family for whom this is more true then the family Alvarez who own, and have successfully run, the Matusalem & Co. distillery ( ).

     Dr. Claudio Alvarez, current owner, can trace his roots directly to his great-grandfather who started the company in 1872 with his brother and one other partner after they emigrated from Spain to Santiago, Cuba. Some internet research says that Matusalem was first distilled in Cuba as far back as 1792 but that is not verified by the company website. Dr Alvarez has now brought his son on board with the company, to continue a family tradition that they have worked zealously for through war, dictatorship and over a century of economic flux. Did you know that at one point (the 1940's), Matusalem was over 50% of the Cuban rum market?

     Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva is made using the solera system which is used primarily for the production of Sherry, and is made (much like cognac) by rules which state that in the 12-year label, 12 year old rums are the youngest age of rum in your bottle... the casks will be stacked on top of each other (on their side) 4 layers high. Every three years, a portion of the bottom cask is bottled and sold. At that point, a portion of the cask (barrique in French) above it is syphoned off and added to the cask below it (to thus refill it to its original level). The top-most cask is topped with new rum, and the process continues.

     Sounds like alot of work? It is, and there are even mathematical formulas to calculate rate of loss from casks per year, average age of rum per cask, etc. The result? Layers upon layers of flavor and bouquet. But I digress.

Ron Matusalem, 12-year Gran Reserva,
Dominican Republic
$60 CAN (BC), $35 US, 30 Euro (Western Europe)
Best of Class & Double-Gold at 2008 San Fransisco Spirit Competition
  • very light caramel colors, hardly any orange/amber
  • fully intense nose; oak is hitting me immediately... none of the aromas I usually associate with rums. I like a sweeter style of rum (Pyrat for example) and this has only the softest whispers of vanilla and caramel in the background. Front and center I find the oak, yes, and a myriad of citrus and florals (Meyer lemon, some thyme or Bay leaf, red currants also come into play for me) - but it is the nuances of oak that dominate for me
  • an interesting palate: full flavored, the oak comes in with an easy drinking robust toasted almond flavor... lightly charred barrels I am assuming. Citrus is still there as well, and that slightly tart currant-like backdrop. Smooth finish, I'm drinking this sans ice or water, and feel the rum isn't suffering from any lack

     I feel like this is a Scotch drinkers rum; by which I mean, it is very well crafted, with alot of nuance that begs to be discovered (not hidden in cola and ice). I have just finished my first bottle of Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, and never once did I feel the need to "water it down a little". It has marvellous balance on its own, and at room temperature, which I feel is a mark of master distilling. Well worth the money!



  1. what should I buy. This or Angostura 1919? Same $. I want to buy my first sipping rum. neat at low $. I am concern of this huge oak in RM15? I do not enjoy heavy char challenging bourbons but light char ones are fine. Buttery soft appealls to be over smooth tannic like bookers. I do however have foundness over tobacco leaf and smoke and chew that why thinking RM15

  2. I would go with the RM15 if you don't like a heavy char... Angostura is heavier if memory serves. However! RM15 is for you if you like a savory rum, not sweet - if you prefer vanilla notes in your rum, try Cruzan 12-year single barrel from the Virgin Islands or Diplimatico Gran Reserva from Venezuala.