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