I originally learned about this rum a few years ago from Cap’n Jimbo’s Rum Project, where it was put forward as a reference standard for Cuban style rum. Last year, it was discovered from court documents related to a dispute between members of the Matusalem family that the original recipe included macerated prunes and vanilla. Since then, the current producers apparently started using artificial flavors resulting in the aforementioned dispute. In any case, this is a relatively inexpensive rum with quite a heritage that has gone through some unfortunate changes recently. Let’s give it a go….
Nose is sweet with a rich charred character and laced with overripe banana, vanilla bean, sweet tobacco and a feint reediness. There’s also a bit of black pepper that comes through with more intense inhaling and overripe stone fruits with a softer approach. It’s not very complex, but very enjoyable, especially if you enjoy sweet fruity aromas.
The taste is immediately sweet and that sweetness carries through to the finish. Like the nose, there are lots of overripe fruits, but that’s tempered with a mild bitterness like the caramel at the bottom of a good flan. The reedy character is more noticeable here while the banana and vanilla are joined with soft cocoa before fading into the mildly bitter finish. It’s an interplay of spices, overripe fruit and sugar cane that takes you from a sweet entrance through a flavorful cascade ending in a fairly long finish of caramelized banana peel and charred wood. After a while, the black pepper becomes more evident and seems to linger with the reedy quality… like there’s an affinity between the two. It’s never strong or pronounced, but it’s more noticeable. With each sip, the sweetness intensifies as it counters the woody caramel finish and reveals overripe pear, overripe dark cherry, orange marmalade (thanks Cap’n Jimbo) and banana peel. While these other fruits and flavors are noticeable, the initial ones continue to dominate, namely the overripe banana and vanilla.
This is a moderately complex rum that is very enjoyable. The sweetness played against the bitterness provides some contrast and keeps things interesting, while the overripe fruit character with mild spice develops over time and then lingers with each sip. We know that this rum is sweetened and I imagine that this is too counter some of the bitterness that is present. Unfortunately, the added sugar probably mutes some of the flavors that would be expected with a complex rum. I don’t mind the added fruit and vanilla, as long as it’s natural (not artificially flavored) and clearly labeled, but the added sugar can’t be helping the quality.
For me, this lies between the demeraran and agricole style rums with characteristics consistent with both while never fitting into either category. The 15 year old is almost as good as this 18 year old and the price is only marginally different. I’ll be looking for a new reference for Cuban style rum. In the meantime, give this one or the 15 year old a try. Both are pretty good.
At one time the 15 year solera was our reference rum for the Cuban style; however, the discovery that RM was adding unlabelled flavorings (vanilla and prune) was not acceptable, despite the fact that this rum was really quite easy to drink. Another factor to consider is that the difference between the 15 and the 18 (and even the 21) is minimal in terms of average age (all are around 8 years average age).
Keep in mind solera are massive investments as most require four levels of barrels, with product only being drawn off the bottom layer. Remember the final product contains only a minor amount of product of the stated oldest rum; thus the difference between the 15 and 18 is very hard to distinguish. Accordingly, it’s really hard to justify the greater cost of the 18 (or 21). To be perfectly honest a solera for a “15” really ought to add a year each year it is in existence, but this is not done.
My guess – like the Zacapas – is that the products are drawn from the same solera, with some possible minor blending going on. Personally, we preferred the 15. Only diehard collectors should really consider the 18, which in truth is only a month or so older in average age (the bulk of the bottling).