El Dorado 21 Year Special Reserve
Steppin' up to the over $100 a bottle club...
In my pre-Tiki rum drinking days I rarely bought expensive rums. The few times I did I found myself unhappy as the result tasted so different from what I thought a rum should taste like; light imminently mixable. You know, like vodka with a better flavor! Ahhh, to be young again with everything I now know. But, I digress.
Getting into Tiki drinks made me realize that rum is, very varied. As this is a review as opposed to Rum 101, I 'll spare you the details save the bare minimum. However, there are several books on the subject that should be read before one starts investing a significant chunk of change into a rum collection. One of my favorite rum classification systems is Martin Cate's from Smuggler's Cove. While it gets rather detailed, essentially he divides rum by distillation type (pot-still, column still or a blend of the two) and amount of aging. Our El Dorado 21 by Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) of Guyana is a blended rum made from stock aged 21-25 years in used whisky and bourbon barrels. While it does contain some portion of pot still rum, most of this blend comes from DDL's French Savalle Still, an 18th four column metal still. Despite having demerara in the name, this rum is made from fermented molasses. DDL labels all of their rums "Demerara Rum" in reference to the Demerara River in Guyana where their distillery is located. Demerara sugar is named for the same river but it's not used in making Demerara Rum. Clear as mud?!
I've been a fan of DDL's El Dorado rums for a few years now. Their standard fare is simply named by the number of years it was aged (3 yr, 5 yr, 8 yr, etc.). While this seems simple it obscures the fact that this is not the same rum bottled at different vintages. DDL operates multiple stills and makes blends from them all. For instance, the 3 yr is charcoal filtered and none of the rest are. The 15 yr is a completely different blend than the 21 yr with a much higher percentage of the pot still run in the blend. I mentioned this to point out that it's not a given that liking one will mean that you like the next higher number even more. In fact, while having the 8 yr on hand, I I tend to default to the 5 yr. It is a great value that mixes very well while still being acceptable on the rocks.
That being said, I'd stayed away from the 21 year as my rum budget keeps my eyes averted from bottles that require three digit price tags. Thankfully, a very good friend of mine gifted me a bottle this past holiday season. I'd give him a shout out but I'm not sure his wife knows he dropped that much on a bottle of rum that she didn't get to try...
Upon opening the bottle, the nose comes to me as caramel, chocolate and tobacco. It's quite dark in color for a rum with natural finishing but if 21-25 years doesn't get you there I don't know what will. So, how does it taste? in a word, big. Living in Tennessee, I have my fair share of whisky and bourbon and while you still know this is a rum the moment it hits your tongue, it's body is as big as many a bourbon. And the finish, well, it's still going! It is quite sweet for a long aged rum. I'm not sure if dosage is involved but I suspect so. Given the heavy percentage of column still rum in it, most of the body seems to be from aging as opposed to congeners from the pot still. There's no pot still funk here as this is a very smooth rum that's as warm as possible without a hint of burn. If you have the chance I highly recommend trying the El Dorado 21. This is one best served neat and shared with a friend. Is it the best rum I've ever tried? I really don't know how to answer that. Rums are made in different ways towards different ends such that it's like trying to name the best band you've ever seen. Is Pink Floyd better than Prince? No, they are apples to oranges. Just enjoy them both for what they are. But, for a blended, long aged rum? El Dorado 21 is definitely my current gold standard.