When I feel like sipping some rum, Panama is typically not the first country I’m thinking of. They can make decent rum, as these Grander releases show, it’s simply not my preference. There are two reasons for this. First, I like the flavour profile of a lot of other rum producing countries better and then there are the shenanigans. A lot of Panama rum has been sweetened, Abuelo for example. They also have a ton of releases with very high age statements at relatively low prices, which seems fishy. Look at the Rum Malecon Reserva Imperial 25 year that features in this review for example. It can be bought for 55 euros. 25 years! How?
Varela Hermanos, the distillery where Abuelo is made, and Las Cabras are fairly well known names in rum enthusiast circles. So is distiller/blender Francisco Jose Fernandez Perez or Don Pancho. Born in Cuba, he’s been in the rum business for decades. Apparently he is responsible for a large portion of rum that’s coming out of Panama. A lot of it sweetened and with a high degree of question marks in regards to age statements. Origines is his most premium effort, which includes a 30 year rum that came out of a distillery that wasn’t 30 years old when the product came on the market. I always wonder how much he’s still involved in creating rum or if his experience and story are simply being used as a good marketing opportunity. Too little transparency to get the full picture unfortunately. There’s a story about him and the “discovery” of the Las Cabras distillery that you can find all over the internet. “They discovered a neglected warehouse. Beneath the overgrown grass, they uncovered a copper column still with a small medallion inscribed with ‘Cincinnati 1922’ and decided to create a modern rum production plant. Now the facility has a five column, continuous distillation installation.” Sounds like Indiana Jones to me. The 5 column setup gives you an idea why a lot of Panama rum is rather light. The distillate coming out of these column stills is likely near flavourless and therefore relying solely on the barrel (or additives) for flavour.
For this review I’m comparing the Malecon 25 year to a 5 year old Malteco. You might wonder what the point of such a comparison is, since the age difference is that large. The thing is, as I was hinting above, I don’t fully trust these age statements. Actually, if someone can prove to me that this Malecon is 25 year rum, I’ll drink an entire bottle of Millonario or Plantation XO 20th as punishment.
The Malteco brand has been owned by Italian Marco Savio since 2000. Subsequently, he also owns Malecon, which is another reason for this comparison. He sources rum from Panama, bottles it and sells it at very low prices, considering the age statements.
I bought the Malecon 25 many years ago in Holland. The Malteco 5 was given to my by a Canadian importer. I gave them my usual “warning” that I always write down my actual opinion, not a standard favourable review for a free product. They were ok with that. Both expressions are bottled at 40% abv.
I tasted it semi blind. I knew which rums were there but not in what order.
Vanilla is obvious, marzipan, raspberry candy, oak and light wood spice. It’s on the sweet side with little grip or bite.
There’s vanilla, oak-ish, toffee, light candle wax and tobacco. There is a bit more going on than with rum 1, it feels heavier and more solid.
Vanilla is quite strong. It’s like a raspberry and vanilla dessert. I’m also getting some pepper and spice, light wood and very faint tobacco notes. The finish is very short. It feels and tastes like it’s lightly sweetened.
Wood, tobacco, toffee and caramel are strong. There’s some licorice, black tea and vanilla. It’s got a strange sweetness to it. The finish is of the “blink and you miss it” kind. There is no bite whatsoever. Probably lightly sweetened.
Rum 1 – Ron Malteco 5
Rum 2 – Rum Malecon Reserva Imperial 25
Neither of these two excite me. No bite, no finish and very little complexity. The Malecon does feel like it sat in a barrel for longer, but I’d be surprised if it was 25 years. It doesn’t taste like it and the price is too low for that amount of years in a barrel.
Malteco 5 will be a crowd pleaser with people who don’t drink 40%+ spirits much, or who are transitioning from spiced rum to the non spiced category. It’s light, somewhat sweet with plenty of vanilla. Not very rummy to me but also not offensive like Millonario or Bumbu.
Ron Malteco 5 – 50
Rum Malecon Reserva Imperial 25 – 62
Click here for info on the scoring method.
Click here for the complete list of reviews.
Epilogue - Blogger vs Industry
In most cases, after I’m done reviewing something and have written all of my notes…..I go and see what other reviewers thought of the same product. I never do this before reviewing, as it might influence my thoughts. I find it interesting to see how my palate lines up with others. In the case of Rum Malecon 25, most of the reviews seem to be hinting towards it being a somewhat average rum. There are exceptions however. Which got me thinking. I’ve heard industry people say and have seen them write that in their opinion, rum blogger reviews seem to have little value and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Things like:”I don’t know what the point of bloggers is”, “I never read blogger reviews”, “if I really want to know if something is good, I’ll ask the most experienced industry people”, “what are your qualifications anyway”. I can continue for a while with these, but you are probably getting the point.
Luca Gargano of Velier recently said:”Bloggers are the best. They do marketing for us while we don’t pay them”. His products are usually reviewed favourably because the majority of them are high quality rums. That makes it easier to deal with blogger reviews. However, when a producer isn’t as consistent with their quality and gets criticism from bloggers, things can be very different. The reactions from some industry people I’ve witnessed include being offended and resentful, bullying, online bullying, even the occasional aggressive behaviour. All because they disagreed with a blogger’s review. What happened to “I don’t read them anyway”?
The answer to the question of “I don’t know what the point of bloggers is”, is that a lot of consumers are looking for a non biased opinion. To have no bias at all is difficult, but nearly impossible when your income is on the line in some sort of shape or form. Most industry people are biased by definition. Not just sales people. Also ones who want to make a name for themselves or desperately want to become friends with people in high places, shall we call them influencers? Event organizers, who want to make sure producers are happy and will join their event. Another example would be a writer of a book who needs access to producers for detailed information and wants to create a positive cheering environment for book sales. Even some bloggers who are writing to please the masses for fame or free product. There are so many examples. There is nothing wrong with most of this of course. It’s just the way sales and marketing work. I’m in sales myself, I get it. If the sales person is transparent about their role towards the consumer, then there is no issue whatsoever.
Let’s get back to why I started rambling about this. I was looking at other people’s reviews and found a couple of good examples of what I’m describing above. Go here (page 99), here and here for industry reviews/information about Malecon 25. Compare that to this, this and this.
I’m not trying to take a swipe at anyone, but it shows why blogger reviews can be valuable to consumers. They contain much more information and have a feel of honesty that makes the decision to buy or not buy a product a lot easier. If you can find an independent reviewer who’s palate somewhat lines up with yours, it can save you from buying quite a lot of lemons. That’s the approach I’ve always taken and it seems to work pretty well for me.
To end on a positive note, there are plenty of people who take “criticism” well, luckily. They are usually true professionals with thick skins who continue to engage and don't take things personal. Cheers to them.