I first tasted Brugal rum in Shanghai, when Austrian mixologist Markus Bernthaler (formerly of Taras) all too briefly had a bottle of the Extra Viejo stashed on his top shelf. The Brugal Extra Viejo proved amazingly smooth and cognacy. It was a rum unlike anything I had tasted before. I dropped back a couple of times with friends so they could have a taste too, and before long the bottle was gone.
That first bottle left an impression, but I never got to try Brugal again until I arrived in the Dominican Republic. Here I have been confronted by walls of Brugal rum virtually everywhere I go. Every little shop carries it. The stuff is so ubiquitous that supermarkets often give it virtually its own section, separate from the rest of the booze. Typically supermarkets have a booze section, containing wines, whiskeys, liqueurs and so forth. Then, sometimes in a completely different part of the store, they have a rum section. Brugal invariably dominates the rum section.
Clearly it is time for a Brugal rum tasting. The fact that rum here is sold in handy little half bottles makes a tasting easy to organize. I am going to taste six of the basic Brugal products. Their flavored rums* are not reviewed here (I noticed a limon and they may do others), and nor is Siglo de Oro, their top of the line product. Siglo de Oro has proved hard to track down for a non-extortionate price so I guess I will review it later. One final exclusion is Brugal Unico, a liqueur based on fine aged rums and other flavorings. Tasting notes below:
Overproof (151): A fierce alcoholic nose – surprise, surprise. It goes down with a fair burn, but the burn gets offset somewhat by sweetness and whiffs of soft chocolate. Fairly smooth for an unaged overproof rum. This is allegedly the only unaged rum in the Brugal range. I can’t drink this straight but as I type it does not seem bad for a supercharged rum and coke. Will I regret it?
Blanco: Smooth and fragrant white rum (supposedly aged for two years?). A mellow profile with strong cocoa butter and light coffee notes. The chocolate notes are fairly pronounced and come through even when mixed with coke and lime in a Cuba Libre. A quality white rum.
Carta Blanca: A light straw color from slight aging. Sharper than Brugal’s longer aged offerings, yet with little of the soft cocoa notes that distinguish the blanco. I am not sure this rum makes for a good compromise between the Blanco and the Carta Dorada. It has an interesting nuttiness though. It seems like they recycle bottles here and the top of my bottle has a worn chip on it. Maybe a poor seal meant this bottle got oxidized? [NOTE: After visiting the Brugal distillery in Puerto Plata I was told that this product has been discontinued.]
Carta Dorada: Sweetish gold rum. Initially grassy and gently herbal, evolving into light honey and fruit flavors. Doesn’t finish as smoothly as the Anejo, and lacks the same balance and depth of flavor. Seems like it would make a nice mixer with juices.
Anejo: Smooth and full bodied. Caramelized bananas, a hint of apricots, woody notes, and a little spice. Subtle and restrained, finishing with a lingering fruity aftertaste. This rum has the makings of a decent sipper. However, if you have access to the Extra Viejo it makes more sense to sip that since the price differential is minimal. Probably best used as a mixer in cocktails that accent the rum. Once again the fruity notes could make it a good mixer with juices.
Extra Viejo: Extremely rich and smooth. Caramel, wood, spices, and suggestions of dried or fermented fruit (maybe prunes) all share the stage. Reminds me of a cognac, being subtle with quite a bit going on. A lingering aftertaste with very gentle bitterness. Full flavored and nicely balanced. A very approachable rum. Given its smoothness I think I prefer it without ice.
* While a few bottles are still in circulation, Brugal has discontinued its two flavored rums – limon and passion fruit.