At $120, this diminutive taste of rum is the single most expensive liquid to ever cross my lips. The aforementioned liquid gold elixir is my portion of Ron Bacardí de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII served yesterday at the Toronto media event to introduce the spirit, which celebrates the company's Sesquicentennial.
Only 1,000 bottles of this limited edition rum were produced in honour of the company's 150 years of rich history and 200 of those are available for sale to the public worldwide, with 19 for all of Canada and five for Toronto. Of those five, two have already been sold and two were allocated for tasting, leaving a single bottle available for sale or perhaps a second if people were light tasters (I promise I only took a couple of sips,…okay, maybe three). Show me one person who says they wouldn't have done the same and I'll show you someone with his/her pants on fire. The point is this rum is scarcer than rare earth minerals and gives new meaning to the term liquid gold.
Naturally something this precious is priced to match. You can sense the invisible hand of Adam Smith's ghost when you see its $2,000 U.S. price tag. But, if you're asked to part with 200 Benjamins I think you should be demanding a little more than just a regular old bottle. Thankfully the presentation is fitting of the asking price and includes: a hand blown, numbered, and finished crystal decanter designed to be reminiscent of the coconut tree planted outside the company's first distillery in Santiago de Cuba. Fittingly, it's also finished with the little touches of an ultra premium luxury item such as: walnut wood on the stopper, a hand pressed seal depicting the company logo (the luck bearing fruit bat which was found in its first distillery), a leather case, presentation stand and a booklet outlining its story. All that houses 500 mL of some of the company's best rum. But exactly how Bacardí determined its precise blend is a story almost as intriguing as the liquid itself.
After all when you're a company with as a history as rich as Bacardí and you sell a product that is at the heart of many celebrations, it only seems fitting that you'd put out something very special to mark your 150th birthday. To do this the company called the eight family master blenders out of retirement and brought them together for a blending session at the company's Cathedral of Rum near San Juan, Puerto Rico. Based on 20 of the best barrels that current master blender Joe Gomez selected as the best they had in the warehouse, the elite eight created four blends before whittling it down to the chosen one. It was far from an easy decision. Even though the blenders are all family you wouldn't believe how they fought and argued for their own vision on what this rum should be, explained senior brand master Willie Ramos. He agreed that it was something like having eight passionate chefs in the kitchen trying to agree on the menu for the meal of a lifetime. But it all stopped once Gomez stepped in and asked them to imagine what company founder Don Facundo Bacardí Massó had in mind, when he was creating the first Bacardí rums. After that the vision became clear and they rallied behind something that would evoked the company's history. The result was a blend, containing rums that have aged between 10 and 20 years and finished in 60-year-old Cognac barrels, crafted to create a unique rum that is highly aromatic, extremely smooth and speaks of the Bacardí approach to the spirit, according to Ramos.
Unique is the keyword. It's one of the most intriguing rums or, for that matter, spirits I've ever encountered. After removing the cover and swirling the snifter the first thing that struck me was a high-toned tropical fruit and floral combination that was reminiscent of that initial note you get when you put your nose to a glass of white Icewine. The high tone dissipates fairly quickly, leaving you with a captivating, layered combination of: dates, kirsch, lightly roasted coffee and buckwheat honey before some subtler notes of clove, allspice, vanilla, smoke and white oak to round things out. On the palate there a strong core of rich dark caramel and fruity muscovado sugar. That's supported by rich smoky tobacco, dried cherries, honeyed medjool dates, roasted pineapple and dried papaya. It finishes nicely in an almost understated fashion with a lingering combination of smoky burnt sugar and tropical flowers. As a whole it's very much like the art deco buildings the company favours, cutting a bold silhouette but doing so with a rounded organic approach. It's cashmere smooth in feel, but relatively light-weight on the tongue feeling substantially comforting and warming, but not heavy. It goes down ultra smooth without a trace of burn or hint of its formidable 43% ABV.
It all makes sense when you look into Bacardí's history. When Don Facundo Bacardí Massó began his company, the local Cuban rum was a rough fire water and not something you'd see served in bars and restaurants, explained Ramos. That was something he set out to change and he made a few revolutionary improvements still used at the company today including: isolating a proprietary yeast strain, filtering the spirit through charcoal and aging it in white oak barrels. Ramos credits the yeast strain, which is a highly protected and guarded secret only a handful of people in the company have access to, as the secret behind Bacardí's distinct flavour. He describes it as fast acting and hungry and while other competitors swear by wild or other slow working yeasts, Bacardí has full confidence in this strain. The combination of that yeast and the blending of its one column distilled aguardiente and five column distilled redistillado components to make the final rum are the keys behind the the soft and smooth Bacardí rum flavour profile that the company thinks is the world's best, according to Ramos.
After that what Bacardí does comes down to the expertise and experience of its master blender both in aging and blending. Rum like all just about all spirits, especially those that are barrel aged, is blended. It ensures a consistent flavour profile from what is essence an agricultural product that varies from year to year. It also smooths out the variations from the different barrels which all age slightly differently because of different placement in the warehouse and that they're all unique.
Interestingly, Ramos downplayed the provenance of the sugar that makes the molasses which is the starting point for Bacardí rum. The company sources it from all over the Caribbean and similarly to wine looks for quality based on the trinity of brix, acidity and pH numbers. He similarly dismisses pot distillation used in Single Malt Scotch and Cognac and some top quality rums as leaving behind too many congers—the double edged sword of the spirit world thought to be responsible for both unique and compelling flavours and imperfections that can lead to nasty hangovers.
If you're interested in purchasing the Ron Bacardí de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII, you should call the Summerhill LCBO right now. Should you come-up short and miss your chance at the one bottle available you could try your luck phoning out west and making the flight to Vancouver, which introduces the spirit for sale there Nov. 8th. For those of us still intrigued but without baller budgets to spend on a $2,000 bottle of rum, there's the rest of Bacardí line.
The Bacardi 8 Year Old comes closest in therms of texture and flavour. Eight years is actually fairly old for a rum. The warmer tropical weather means the angel's share (what evaporates from the barrels in a year) can be as high as 10% compare to 2% for Scotch made in the cooler climate of Scotland. The nose shares a family resemblance with a floral and fruit tropical undercurrent and sweet sugary richness that smells like palm sugar when it hits the pan and begins caramelising. Those aromas combine with dried fruit, rich sweet toasty brioche and a vanilla finish. When you take a sip that vanilla really comes forward and is supported by roasted almond, raisins, dates, and dark carmel with background of oak and nutmeg. The finish is warm and slightly smoky with that vanilla-oak combination showing at its best. It's not nearly as smooth as the Sesquicentennial rum, but it's well balanced and complex given the price point. The Añejo aged 3-5 years and a few dollars cheaper is also a nice choice. The flavour profile is more tree fruit than tropical with apricot, pear and burnt orange. The vanilla is also a little subtler and allowing a bit more of that smoke and burnt sugar caramel to come through. With a lighter and subtler body it's a good choice for those that prefer their rum in mixed drinks, but are looking to graduate to something they might want to sip. Speaking of mixing, the company's signature and the world's original white rum, is aged in barrel but stripped of colour through charcoal filtering. It was made clear to signal this rum was meant to mix . While I wouldn't take Ramos' advice and use it anywhere it would use my favourite white spirit gin, like in a Martini or a companion for some refreshing summer tonic, it works well in a mojito. The soft floral notes and slightly sweet vanilla and blanched almond notes combine nicely with tart lime and refreshing mint.
But no matter what rum you choose and how you choose to drink, there's no denying that rum is a versatile beverage. In fact Ramos extols that it's every bit as varied and complex as wine. But if you need one other reason to try some rum, I'll relay an anecdote he told about Conquistador and first Governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León. Famous, even now, for his obsession with the Fountain of Youth, when locals explored Ponce de León's home after his death, they found a still. As Ramos suggested the fountain may not have been a place but rather a thing and the secret of youth just might be in perfecting distilled sugar cane.
Ron Bacardi de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII
Price: $2,000 for 500 mL
Availability: One bottle via the Summerhill LCBO call to inquire
Bacardi 8 Year Old Rum
Price: $29.95 for 750mL
Availability: LCBO 492520
Price: $26.95 for 750mL
Availability: LCBO 273508
Bacardi Superior Rum
Price: $24.95 for 750mL
Availability: LCBO 117