Updated: Apr 13, 2020
When I pick a rum or two to write something about it is usually a spur of the moment kind of thing. I look around my cabinet and pick something. In this case it was a little different. A couple of weeks ago a client of mine gave me his bottle of Centenario 18. We were chatting rum and he said:”I don’t really drink it, I try offering it to people for dessert but they usually don’t want it, there’s not much left in the bottle……have it”. It would be rude to refuse. Saying no to a rum gift is silly anyway. A few days later a good Trinidadian friend brought me a bottle her dad got for me at the airport in Trinidad. Amazing! No clue why I deserved such a nice gesture, but I gladly accepted it. It was a bottle of Angostura 1787, 15 year old.
I figured, this is a sign. I need to do something with these two. Very different rums, but at the same time they have something in common….both are adulterated.
To make it a bit more interesting I've added Centenario 30 to the equation. I bought this in San Andres Colombia for next to nothing a few years ago. When we flew back from the island to Bogota I still remember the stewardess at the airport telling us:”You could have just put the bottles in your hand luggage, as long as you stay under 10 bottles or so”. Que?
Let’s talk about Centenario first. I have to warn you there is a little frustration involved. They are a company from Costa Rica. However, since 2016 they are owned by a real estate development firm from Panama , UDG. So far so good. My next task was to find out where the distillery is and what it’s like. After spending hours going through the web, including watching German YouTube reviews of Centenario rums, I haven’t gotten a solid answer. I approached Centenario through social media as well and got no reply.
I’ll tell you what I think it is, but can’t be 100% sure. I think they are sourcing rum from a massive alcohol plant somewhere in Costa Rica or, as a little bird whispered in my ear, Nicaragua. They then age it for a little while, blend it, add sugar and bottle it. They try to paint a picture of artisanal, but this Centenario video looks a little different. Check out the screen shots of the distillery in the video.
I’ve looked for photos of barrels, since they talk a lot about the ex bourbon barrels they use. I found one staged photo of barrels…..on Amazon. Tons of barrels in a dirty warehouse can be a sign they are actually ageing a lot of rum, in this case it could also provide evidence of the existence of a solera process. On their labels they display bold age statements, 20 years, 25 years, 30 years…..with the addition of the word “solera”. They aren’t the only company who uses this trick. Dictador does it as well for example. Fact is, there are very few companies who use an actual solera process. Click here for an explanation. The rest is using it to deceive consumers.
What they are likely doing is simply blend rum of different ages to get to a certain taste profile, not solera age it. The skeptic in me doesn’t believe any of the components are anywhere near the age stated on the bottle. There is just too little barrel influence detectable. The worst part is, they get away with it. A lot of people fall for this because you have to dig deep to find out more about the product than the standard marketing. Only a minuscule minority of drinkers is willing to do this. For the rest, a big number on the bottle + sweet n smooth rum = high value. I understand that.
However, I don’t understand the people who drink this stuff, do some research and still aren’t pissed off at the producer. They spend a lot of money on a rum that isn’t what it pretends to be. That would bother me. I’m not talking about what it tastes like. People can drink whatever they want. I’m talking about spending big money (I’ve seen Centenario 30 priced at 150 Euro), drinking it and thinking “wow, that’s smooth, it’s clearly 30 years aged”. While the added sugar is likely what’s making it smooth, not the ageing. That’s not value for money.
I bet I can buy a $30 sweetened rum, put it in a blind tasting with Centenario 30 and the latter not being the overwhelming favourite (that it should be). The “value” in the Centenario’s case is in the perception. When you take that perception away through a blind tasting, there isn’t much left.
On a side note….about the word “smooth”. In some of my searches I ended up at the Rum Ratings website, where these types of rums typically are the highest rated ones. If they’d do a word count on the entire site, I’m pretty sure “smooth” is the #1 used word on the site. It seems like such a meaningless word though. Smooth means the rum goes down your throat without any burn? The added sugar is responsible for that. Changes the mouthfeel and makes it soft. Also takes away a lot of flavour, as the sweetness dominates and it can thus easily be used to make a cheap product taste rich, sweet and smooth. The perfect recipe for large margins for the company who’s willing to deceive. Anyway, I'm losing focus here. Sorry.
Let’s move away for now and look at Angostura. A Trinidadian company with more pedigree. The distillery was built in 1947. It houses a large 5 column still. They have an incredible amount of rum ageing in barrels. They use a 48 hour fermentation, sometimes a little longer. They use their own unique yeast for fermentation. It is then distilled up to 95% (80-95%) alcohol and aged in once used American oak.
Finally, some useful information. So far so good. However, this happened a few years ago. Apparently Angostura was buying bulk rum from other countries and selling it as their premium rum. Sigh.
Years ago I used to enjoy Angostura 1919 and 1824. My palate has changed and I now find them too sweet and too strong on the vanilla. I don’t have a lot of good experiences with their rum and thus don’t really seek them out. An exception is the Compagnie Des Indes 16 year Trinidad at 63%. That’s a fantastic rum and a testament they can make something great.
Centenario 30, 40%. According to the marketing it’s a blend of 8 to 30 year rums. Drecon tested this at 44 g/l of additives.
Centenario 18 Reserva de la Familia, 40%. According to the marketing it’s a blend of 6 to 18 year rums. Although I’ve also seen 4 to 18 years.
Angostura 1787, 40%. 15 year age statement. 1787 is the date the first sugar estate was established in Trinidad. Alko's laboratory tested this at 30g/l of added sugar.
Very light with some oak, vanilla, black tea, light mint, molasses and caramel. You really have to look for things but in the end it’s a nice nose.
This one’s much stronger on the oak. I’m also detecting vanilla, black pepper, caramel and faint crayon. This could put me to sleep.
Starts off with coffee which diminished when I let it breathe a bit. It’s very strong on vanilla. Next to that there is caramel, oak, light varnish, strong pepper, rubber and a bit of petrol. A much more expressive nose than the other two.
It’s incredibly sweet, with honey and a little bit of wood. The finish is on the short side and ends with a bitter note. Gone before you know it.
Quite woody. It’s sweet but not as much as the 30, less added sugar is my guess. There is vanilla and a short, very bitter finish. That’s all folks!
It’s very oaky and there is tons of vanilla. I find it peppery, which is something I’ve noticed with several of their rums. The rubber from the nose comes back. It reminds me of the 1824, with some of the strong/fake vanilla of the 1919. The finish is quite bitter. Mariangela said:”It smells and tastes like pencil shavings and the finish is extremely bitter.”
Lack of transparency is quite the issue here, Centenario more so than Angostura. With the 1787 you kind of know what you are getting, although I wish they would disclose additives, as their master distiller publicly denies adding sugar while Alko in Finland uses a laboratory to test whatever they sell and they have found added sugar in 1787. Centenario is plain disgraceful in their level of deceit. There is no transparency in anything.
Between the 18 and the 30 I’d take the 30 for the nose, which is ok. On the palate I’d be disappointed with spending money on both. At the price of the 30 I’d be angry, with the cheaper 18 I’d be mildly annoyed. There are much cheaper sweetened rums out there. Or even better, buy a bottle of Grander 12 and add some sugar.
The Angostura is also not my thing. Too strong on the vanilla, pepper and added sugar. I wonder what it would taste like without the additives. But, I’ll take this over both Centenarios any day.
Centenario 30 – 35
Centenario 18 – 30
Angostura 1787 – 48
Click here for info on the scoring method