Rum used to be the providence of sailors, buccaneers and ne'er-do-wells... in the 1700's rum-drinkers were the fringe of society and were marked as such.
How much has really changed in 300 years? Well in some parts of the world, it would seem very little!
Imagine that, like me, you live in North America... in the northern part of North America. Little enough rum drinking here and, what there is, seems focused around mixing mediocre distillate with cola beverages and copious amounts of ice. The more adventurous may put a lime wedge in as well, probably to the derision of their cohorts.
I always cosied up to the idea of rum, buccaneers and sunny-climates, but never found a tribe of like-minded people who shared my passion until my wife decided that we needed a vacation, and Cuba was the place to go. The first thing we were told on the bus from the airport to the resort was that "Vitamin R" would cure all of our woes and the only thing better then rum was more rum.
I was in Heaven!
And I returned from that adventure a changed man; devoted to all things excellent in rum (much to the chagrin of my wife and my wallet). It took years, and over a hundred different bottles of the sugar-based spirit, but I began to develop not only an appreciation - but my own sense of palate. And this education took many forms: from the professional-level tastings at New Product Salons, to the very very informal sessions held on my front-porch late in the Summer evenings, where invitations were based on people's preference in cigars...
But both types of teaching had a distinct influence on me, and, I'm more fluent in the language of rum because of them. Do you prefer light, golden or dark rum? Aged? If so - how long? Cuban? Dominican? But to me just as important as deciphering what one likes, is learning the why behind it.
I've discovered that I usually prefer a dark rum with a hint of elegance to the structure, which often comes as a result of long aging (12 years or longer). I enjoy the notes of orange, exotic fruit, wild floral tones that only come from certain regions and certain styles. I learned this over the course of a few years and know that it will take decades to truly come to any deep level of understanding of the process. What then can I say about a region that has invested centuries in it's understanding of rum, and of it's own capacity to produce World-Class spirit?
When Christopher Columbus came to the Americas in the late 1400's, he came here with some very serious financial backing. The fiscal powers-that-be weren't just funding Old Chris for the sake of a Grande Olde Adventure... no, no. These people were in business, and their business was about taking a dollar and turning into two. Sugar was becoming a very lucrative commodity in Europe and was expected to keep doing so. If Columbus was sailing along the equator, he was bound to find land suitable to the production of sugar.
They didn't know the half of it!
Sugarcane made its way from the Canary Islands to Guyana in the 1600's, and soon the British and the Dutch were working their new-fangled distillation miracles with the sugar water. Well, by the 1700's there were over 300 sugar plantations in Guyana, each and every one of them with it's own distillery. And what came out of this new addition to the landscape? Not only did the distilled spirit start developing such rich characteristics and stable quality that the British Navy began a ration of rum, daily, to each and every sailor (starting a hundred years of drunken sailing... "No, No Admiral," they declared, "we have no idea how we crashed the ship!") but something else just as marvelous happened.
300 distilleries started developing their own sense of style! Some lighter, some darker, some aged longer, some bursting with freshness but all of them creating their own sense of self, their own identity. Flash forward a few hundred years and the Demerara Distillers Limited (parent company to El Dorado rum) decide to capitalize on this unique history. They develop a new brand of premium and ultra-premium rum starting the world's first 15-year aged rum.
Two things to remember about aged rums: 1) the age indicated is the youngest aged rum in the blend and 2) aging of spirits in the Tropics happens twice as quickly as in Northerly climates (ie: Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France)... meaning that a 15-year rum has many of the same characteristics as a 30-year cognac (in terms of its aged character). Significant facts my friends!
But wait a second! Isn't rum just for the ne'er-do-wells? The ruffians and vagabonds? Well the good people at Demerara Distillers had faith that the rum-connoisseurs of the world were just waiting for something new, something a bit more polished and a bit more... grown-up. Turns out - they were right! Now El Dorado has one of the most distinguished line-ups of aged rum anywhere. And arguably the largest warehouse of aged rums as well.
Let me show you one such example:
El Dorado 12-year special reserve
$35 CAD (www.BCLDB.com)
- visual: clear; medium+ golden amber core
- nose: clean; medium+ intense orange/tangerine citrus tones infused with soft notes of exotic wild-flowers, caramel, aged honey and some exotic fruit such as mango/ripe strawberry-papaya
- palate: clean; medium+ body, medium+ alcohol (40% ABV), medium+ intense flavors that match the nose quite well; there is a burst of bright orange citrus tones that is followed quickly by notes of exotic flowers and fruit... some dried apricot characteristics as well lend considerable complexity to a low/mid-priced spirit. Very good to excellent balance, great structure and length
- conclusion: a stunning value for the money, I can see why the BC liquor board customer ratings are presently at 4.7 out of 5... simply one of the best rums for the price on the market. Period.
So now we know the what: That Demerara Distillers wanted to create a world-class line-up of rums and they succeeded. Brilliant! We're all applauding the result, but how did they make it happen? I could say that it was a result of generation upon generation of blood, sweat and tears and I wouldn't be lying. But? But there's more to it then that.
Passion, talent, dedication.
It was the Passion of people like George Robinson, Master Distiller and brilliant cricket player who was the guiding vision behind El Dorado's climb to heights unparalleled in the world of rum distillation. George is sadly no longer with us, but he had a deep faith that "If you build it, they will come" which proved to be more then true... El Dorado is now a global label and has truly set the standard for ultra-premium aged rums.
Talent took the form of Amar Seweda, Master Blender who has the arduous task of combining the multitude of flavors into one coherent form... currently El Dorado has an arsenal of 8 different stills to create 8 completely unique styles, or marques, of rum. From this plethora it is Amar's job to create one unified vision for each of the separate age categories and colors and maintain its consistency year after year. This is a true master-craftsman's task and is exemplified in the 21 year rum which has been categorized by the Chicago Beverage Institute as being “A monumental aged rum that is one of the world’s greatest rum drinking experiences!”
I'm looking forward to my next taste of its little brother, the 15-year, which should be right about now :)
El Dorado 15-year
$50++ CAD (in BC, only select private stores)
- visual: clear; medium+ aged honey/golden amber core with copper highlights
- nose: clean; medium+ intense aromas much like the 12-year but with more finesse... the exotic floral tones are abundant/layered/textured, the exotic fruit bouquet is opulent and has more guava tones as well as papaya and there is a savory sweetness to it - like candied yams
- palate: clean; medium body, medium- alcohol (40%, enjoyable straight at room temperature), medium+ intense flavors brilliantly inline with the aromas; crisp exotic fruit drive a palate awash in floral tones, and with the salty-sweetness of salt-water-toffee... brilliantly clean finish and persistent. Excellent balance and structure, long length
- conclusion: Stunning. I'm forced to ration myself with this bottle as the last bottle of this I had emptied itself in one evening with only a few friends and some great conversation
So I've explained how and why this company delivers exceptional quality and exceptional value, but I didn't tell you about their secret weapon! World-class staff are an integral part of the puzzle, but great craftsmen (or women) need world-class tools to work with...
This is one of the oldest functioning stills in the world! Originally designed in 1832 by an intrepid Irishman by the name of Aeneas Coffey. The still, then, is know by the eponymous name The Wooden Coffey Still. This is the last one of it's kind still in operation, and is much the same as it would have been when first put into production around 1880... it's a kind of magic, when you think of it, that we are tasting from this piece of history much the same style of rum as people were over 200 years ago. Simply amazing.
Demerara Distillers (and El Dorado) have a combined total of 8 unique stills, all producing their own style (marques) of rum. This is the secret weapon; some old, some new, pot-bellied stills to produce ripe, round flavors and column stills to preserve freshness and some of the oldest stills in the world preserving a tradition that in this part of the world goes back centuries.
Blending the old and the new isn't a goal, it's a journey. I have the highest admiration for companies, like El Dorado, who are on this journey with such high intentions. In a time when "following suit" seems to be a requisite skill for growth, here is a company who bucked the social norms and created their own path. I only hope that when it's my turn to take a stand, I do so with as much finesse... and I hope there's a bottle of El Dorado waiting for me at the end!
CINCIN~!!! SLAINTE~!!! CHEERS~!!!
16th January, 2014
Today I found tucked away in a corner a wee dram of rum that I'ld saved for a rainy day. As it happens, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. But I figured to myself that somewhere it must be raining, and so I ended up with a few ounces of the ever-delightful El Dorado 5-year for my troubles.
In most portfolios, the 5-year would not only be an entry-level product in terms of price, but also in quality. Not so with this distillery! Though there is certainly less concentration, less layering and nuances of flavors and aromas, this is a spirit that drinks on it's own with ease and mixes like a dream... there's a reason I had to hide the bottle from myself, remember?
But enough talk! There's only one place to find empirical evidence: In The Glass.
Under $30 CAD in BC
TO THE EYE: pale amber/honey core with light gold highlights
ON THE NOSE: rich yet not overly complex aromas of honeyed apricots, vanilla, warm flowers
ON THE PALATE: smooth, with just a hint of alcohol burn at the mid and end-palate (at room temperature). Flavors are much like the nose with some exotic honeyed fruit tones, mild vanilla and floral. Well balanced and enjoyable on it's own
How to drink it? as in all things, this is personal taste. I don't personally mix rum with cola, but if I did - then this would be my stand-by. Inexpensive enough that I wouldn't care who mixed what with it and smooth enough that I could serve it to my father with a straight face.
Another feather in the cap for El Dorado and another reminder to myself why I keep a bottle of this in the house at all times... I may save the 15-year for my best friends, but I know for a fact that I've made more then a few friends pouring this at a party.