Updated: May 3, 2019
If person A likes a product and person B doesn’t, they’ll probably never agree on it. Nor would they have to, since there really isn’t much point in trying to convince someone their taste buds are wrong.
What about agreeing on a set of expectations when it comes to transparency and quality of the product though? If I’m spending good money on a product, I want to know I’m getting value for money, that it delivers on its promises and has a certain quality standard. No?
Lets first take a look at some Dictador marketing:
“Dictador is a dynamic, modern and luxury lifestyle brand that embodies heritage and provenance, with a history in spirits production of over 100 years. Third-generation rum producer and Master Blender, Hernan Parra, continues the family’s legacy and tradition.”
The term “luxury lifestyle brand” immediately provides me with doubts. It’s a term I associate with expensive vodka in a bling bottle. In a lot of those cases one’s paying more for marketing than for quality. Hernan Parra is described as a rum producer and master blender, not as a distiller. There is a Destilería Colombiana ltd in Cartagena though. When checking the address on Streetview there is no sign of a distillery, just something that looks like a warehouse. It’s suggested this is a bottling plant. Additionally, on the back label of a "Best of 1978" bottle it states "Since the opening of our distillery". How confusing. Distillery or no distillery?
On their website the rum is described as follows:
“Dictador 12 Years Rum is made from the fermentation of virgin sugar cane honey distilled partly in copper alembic and partly in steel continuous column, to achieve a medium body rum. Aged in pre-used oak barrels and finally bottled under the highest quality control to ensure all the secrets are contained in the liquid flavour.”
This suggests it’s a 12 year rum, distilled in pot and column still, so it must be a blend. But where is it distilled? There is no definitive answer to this question unfortunately.
A fellow rum blogger, Cyril from France, did an interview with Hernan Parra. Click here to read it. It turned into quite a game of cat and mouse. Interestingly, there are a few documents there which show Dictador buying large amounts of alcohol and rum from Panama. Why is Destilería Colombiana ltd buying this and why aren’t they proud to show off their distillery and ageing facilities? I can’t come up with any good reasons for this and one can’t help but think that these simply don’t exist. Or is this part of the secrets that “are contained in the liquid flavour”?
On the label it states it's a solera rum, not in the marketing though.
Transparency certainly doesn’t seem a priority, how about quality?
First thing that my brain alerts me to is licorice. Everything else is very light: alcohol, vanilla, raisins, wood, toffee and some coffee. It's a decent nose.
The licorice smell gave me a particularly happy memory of "salmiak ruitjes" and "Potter's". I grew up in Holland and the Dutch are the largest consumers of licorice per capita in the world. I ate a lot of it over the years. Hence why I’m sensitive to its flavour.
Salty liquorice, salmiak liquorice or salmiac liquorice, is a variety of liquorice flavoured with the ingredient "salmiak salt" (sal ammoniac; ammonium chloride), and is a common confectionery found in the Nordic countries, Benelux, and northern Germany.
I’m thankful for the happy memory, it’s just not one I was expecting to find in rum.
Heavy licorice, caramel, vanilla and toffee. Sweet and sticky with more salty licorice. Anise shows up in the finish, which is bitter and short.
It makes me think of another alcoholic licorice flavoured drink. Dropshot. Of course this doesn’t taste like rum, but Dictador 12 doesn't much either. Dropshot is only 20% alcohol but it’s only 10 euro a bottle. Compare that to the price of the Dictador and it means there is money left over. Money that could be used to buy some overproof rum. How about a blend of Dropshot and Wray & Nephew overproof?! I bet that will taste better than the Dictador, would contain more rum and would last you longer!
What I find an interesting thought in all this is the fact that a lot of people outside of Holland seem to not like licorice. Click here for video evidence of this. So what makes people drink this regardless? The nice looking bottle? The beautiful Dictador girls? The misleading age statement? If I knew why, I would sell the idea to licorice candy producers in Holland so they can increase their international sales. I’d be rich!
Normally I’d go to the conclusion and score part of this review now. But I’d like to include something else before I do.
Below you see a recent lab analysis of Dictador 12. It’s a bit tricky to judge a rum just by the numbers and I’m not an expert on these, so don’t take my word for it. However, I did ask some knowledgeable people about them, which is why I can provide a few comments.
Most hydrometer tests performed on Dictador rums by enthusiasts haven’t come up with anything, even though the rum tastes dosed. It was suggested this could be because the actual abv is higher than what’s stated on the label. In this case the rum is 40%, according to the label, but the lab measured it at 41.1%. This would be enough to obscure a small amount of additives from a hydrometer. I’m not suggesting they are doing this on purpose.
The dry extract shows 6.9 g/l of additives.
Next one is the isopentanol value of 15.9. That’s on the low side for something that is supposed to have pot still in the blend.
Last one I’ll point out is the esters level. This is very low for a 12 year rum. A value of 20.1 would typically be associated with a much younger rum.
There isn’t much to be happy about here. No transparency, a misleading age statement and a lab analysis that shows it’s a very light rum with additives. The strong licorice flavour isn’t very rum like to me. This doesn't mean people are wrong if they like the flavour of this product of course. The aim of this article is not to tell people what they should be drinking. But I do think it's important to know what's in the bottle and to realize it's overpriced for what it really is.
The company seems to do well, selling a misrepresentation of rum all over the world. Margins are probably high. This doesn’t help the reputation of rum in general and they are taking market share from rum makers who are willing to sell consumers rum on the basis of quality and transparency.
I wish companies like these would be forced to show their entire process in detail and label their product for what it is. This way us consumers can know exactly what we are buying and make an informed decision.
Click here for info on the scoring method.