Today I’m tasting three Spanish style rums from companies with a long history in rum making. Brugal, Pampero and Santa Teresa. Brugal is from the Dominican Republic and dates back to 1888, when Don Andres Brugal Montaner started the company. The current Maestra Ronera and Maestro Ronero at Brugal are Jassil Villanueva and Gustavo Ortega Zeller, 5th generation from the Brugal family.
Pampero was founded in 1938 by Alejandro Hernández. They are based in Venezuela and are now part of the Diageo portfolio.
Also from Venezuela is Santa Teresa. The estate was founded in 1796, where coffee cacao and sugar cane was grown. Rum making started in 1830 when the Vollmer family took charge. Their descendants are still running La Hacienda Santa Teresa. Their 1796 expression is said to contain rums of up to 35 years aged in ex bourbon barrels. Click here for an interesting video on their production methods and actual solera ageing process.
At first glance, fermentation and distillation isn’t where the magic happens with many Spanish style rum producers. There is a lot of talk about “clean”, “pure”, even “neutral” alcohol when you start digging into how they make rum. Which is quite the opposite from a Jamaican rum for example.
Here’s an excerpt from the Pampero website:
“Representing the pinnacle of our master distiller's perfectionism, Aniversario is triple distilled to produce a rum of exceptional colour, power and presence. A super-premium blend of rums, aged to perfection for up to 4 years in casks previously used for maturing whisky or sherry.”
I’m not sure what’s super premium about a blend that’s triple distilled and less than 4 years old. This is what they mean by triple distilled......apparently:
Another part but then for their Seleccion 1983: “An expert blend of rums, distilled in three column stills to produce a cleaner, crisper alcohol.”
There it is again, a cleaner alcohol. Doesn’t sound like rum to me. These are vodka terms. Would this be triple distilled in their three column still perhaps?
Check out this screenshot I took from the Brugal website a while ago:
“And it’s distilling not once, not twice, but endlessly that means Brugal is always the cleanest purest spirit.”
Who wants the cleanest purest spirit? I want flavourful rum going into that barrel!
Sounds like most of the flavour has to come from barrels and/or additives. South and Central American producers have a long track record of adding stuff to their rum. From sugar to glycerine, artificial vanilla, sherry concentrate, sweet wines, heavy colouring….etc. If you don’t mind these practices and you enjoy the flavour they create, then it’s no problem of course. However, in many cases these additives aren’t disclosed. In that case you can’t have an opinion on them as a consumer, as you simple don’t know what you are drinking. Even when asked, some of these producers still lie about it. One has to wonder, why lie about something if you think it’s an ok and sometimes called “ancient” or “traditional” practice?!
Well, there is a benefit to the lying, namely keeping up the pretense to make more money. In many cases these additives go hand in hand with calling the product a premium rum. You’ll find a high number on the label, typically 20+, sometimes with the word “years/años”, sometimes only a number to confuse you and a lot of times the word solera. Making you think it’s actually been aged for that long while it hasn’t. Heavy colouring will be used to make the liquid very dark, because the average consumer thinks dark is better and more aged. Glycerine or sugar will be added to give the rum a smooth mouthfeel, as a lot of people feel that smooth=aged=good=expensive. Put it in a fancy bottle, attach a fancy price tag and Bob’s your uncle.
I despise this practice. Misleading consumers simply isn’t ok. I’ve seen a rep of one of these companies state:”We knew what we were doing, but as long as everyone keeps paying for it….why wouldn’t we do it?!”. Another recently said:”People shouldn’t tell us how to make our rum”. I agree with him. Nobody should tell him how to make his rum, he should tell the consumer how he makes it. That way people can make an informed buying decision and the misleading practices might stop. But it won ‘t happen, as it would hurt their bottom line.
Brands like Zacapa, Zaya, Quorhum (Oliver & Oliver), Dos Madeiras, Centenario, Plantation, Millonario, A.H. Riise, Diplomatico, Dictador and plenty of others use various levels of deceiving methods to sell their products.
I know there are plenty of people who say:“I don’t care about additives, as long as I like the taste of the product”. That’s great. Not everyone needs to feel so cheated by these companies as I do. Everyone can choose whatever they spend their money on. I like to know there is value for money in a product though. Ageing is the most expensive part of making rum. Hence why there is a big number on those labels to justify a high price. But when that isn’t the actual age, what are you paying for?
I’m talking about additives as two of the three rums in this article have additives, the third one is a maybe. When looking at two popular rum websites where hydrometer test results are published, Drecon lists Pampero Aniversario at 16g/l of additives, Fat Rum Pirate at 12g/l. Santa Teresa is the maybe. Fat Rum Pirate has the old bottle (the one I have) at no additives but the new one at 8g/l. The Brugal Leyenda isn’t widely available for sale and hasn’t been tested for additives. My spider senses are tingling when I drink this though and I am convinced this isn’t pure rum.
When it comes to presentation the Brugal has the fanciest bottle. The other two are more plain Jane, although the Pampero comes in a cool leather pouch.