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.
The best thing I can say about these rums is that none of them have an age statement. One might wonder how you can be happy with a NAS bottling, but when most of these age statements with Spanish style rums are purely there to mislead….I’d rather have none.
All three are light in nature. Both Pampero and Santa Teresa are 40%, Brugal Leyenda is a rather sad 38% abv. This means it's just within European Union rules to be classified as rum.
Santa Teresa 1796
It’s a light nose with vanilla, dried fruit, a hint of candle wax, toffee and raspberry wine gums. Not bad, not super interesting.
Quite a lot of coffee, wood, chocolate, light vanilla and the scent of a musty wine cellar. Horrible.
This one scores strong in the candle wax department. I also smell wood, vanilla and a slight plasticy/rubbery off note. The wood and vanilla scents are nice though.
Pampero wins the nosing round….just. It’s slightly more expressive than Santa Teresa. Brugal Leyenda is far off.
Santa Teresa 1796
It’s strong on caramel and has some bitter oak spice. Vanilla, red fruit and a light sweetness that isn’t unpleasant. Doesn’t taste like sugar was added. There isn’t much to the finish. Nice rum.
As soon as it hits my tongue I think “SUGAR!”, since the mouthfeel is “smooth” and it tastes sweet. I’m getting strong raisins and wood. The finish brings up coffee, wood and caramel. I’m wondering if raisin tea exists? If it does, add some wood flavour and a splash of coffee……et voila….Brugal Leyenda. My notes say:”it’s off…..yuck!”
Caramel, vanilla and some wood spice are the highlights. There is a sweetness to it that’s somewhat off putting. The finish is on the dull side.
Santa Teresa wins the tasting round. It’s a pleasant light rum. The Pampero is some ways behind it and the Leyenda is down in the basement.
It’s good to know what you are drinking and paying for. That doesn’t mean it has to dictate your taste buds though. Hence why I’m not here to tell anyone what they should be drinking. I’m sharing my experience, without much of a filter. If you go through some of my other articles and realize we like a lot of the same rums, this site might be useful for you. In any other case it might not be. It’s all good.
If it wasn’t clear already, I have a strong dislike for misleading practices in the world of rum (and anywhere else for that matter). Through the journey of finding out about these things I’ve also come to prefer rums with no additives. I discovered that they are much more layered and interesting to me than the one trick poneys that sugared rums often are. Sweetness dominates in many cases.
The three rums above all have a certain level of sweetness. With the Santa Teresa it feels well integrated, the Pampero a little less so and the Brugal is a mess. With the Brugal I’d start doubting if I could pick it out as a rum in a blind tasting. How is that even acceptable? I don’t have that feeling with the other two.
I used to find Pampero a very good match for Coke. It’s been surpassed by Appleton Signature and plenty others by now, but that’s what I might still use it for on occasion. The Santa Teresa I’ll use for showing people what a decent Spanish style rum can taste like. I might even sip it myself here and there. As for the Leyenda, I don’t know what to do with it. Probably put it out at parties with non rum drinkers, or to water the plants with.
Santa Teresa 1796 – 60
Brugal Leyenda – 27
Pampero Anniversario - 48
Click here for info on the scoring method.