Yesterday was supposed to see me head from Sosua to Puerto Plata to tour the Brugal Distillery. Unfortunately a hurricane blowing across the island messed up my plans. The heavens opened during breakfast, and leaving the hotel suddenly seemed a very bad idea. Even leaving the restaurant was going to mean getting very wet. The Brugal tour would have to wait until Monday.
The weather settled a little in the afternoon, and I took advantage of the break in the rain to hop in a shared taxi to Caberete, a smaller settlement several kilometers down the road. I had heard a rumor that beside the Caberete petrol station was a shop stocking Siglo de Oro and selling it at non-extortionate prices.
Incidentally countryside taxis here are a little like Cambodia. You get the option of traveling very cheaply by paying for a single seat in a cab traveling in your direction. The seat besides the driver is considered two seats though, so you pay double to sit there if you do not want somebody else sitting practically in your lap. In fact, in the Dominican Republic there are even taxis working city streets that operate on this system. It’s not such a bad idea really, though in urban areas I guess it works best where the city has a grid-like layout.
Siglo de Oro is the top product from Brugal, and something of a cult rum. Only two thousand 30 thousand bottles are produced each year. The rum is released around December, and by the time August arrives it has long ago become difficult to find. I had seen it in a few of the tourist shops in Santo Domingo, but they were selling it at prices that began at around twice the usual retail price and increased from there depending on the whim of the shopkeeper. Would I manage to pick a bottle up for a more reasonable sum?
Given my bad Spanish I was not sure if the taxi driver would drop me off at the right spot. Everything went smoothly though. He pulled up outside a petrol station. Reassuringly the station had a mini-market as promised. Even the name of the mini-market was right – Mercado la Rosa or something. I went in, and sure enough there were two bottles of Siglo de Oro stashed on the top shelf. Better still, they were priced at only 1,430 pesos. I bought a bottle and headed back thorough the deteriorating weather to Sosua.
Back in my room I opened up the box the rum came in, flicking on the television as I did so, only to find scenes of the most incredible carnage. The Dominican Republic had just had the worst traffic accident in its history. Somewhere else on the island two buses had collided head on, leaving over twenty people dead. To call the TV footage graphic would be an understatement. Lingering closeups of severed heads were the order of the day.
I was no longer in the mood for trying a new rum, so I set the rum aside and went out for some dinner. I dropped by a little hole in the wall place run by a German guy that served impressive sausages, schnitzels and so on. Unfortunately nobody here seems to be able to do chips well. They are oily everywhere you go.
Not until today did I finally open the rum. I guess that makes my bottle of Siglo de Oro a birthday present to myself. “Nice!” Now if only I could persuade other people to treat me this well.
Siglo de Oro is impressively packaged in a blue box. The rum itself is contained in an attractive blue pottery bottle with a cork stopper. Some of the purchase price for this rum clearly goes on the flash packaging. Would the rum itself live up to the hype?
I removed the stopper and poured a little into a glass. It poured with a deep gold color and a rich, almost syrupy, consistency.
On sniffing my first impression was that it was awfully like the Brugal Extra Viejo. I even wondered for a moment if I had not been sold some kind of fake. I am finding this is the case with rums though. The differences between different products from the same company can be fairly subtle – to me anyway.
Without analyzing the nose much beyond thinking “smells like Brugal”, I dove in for a taste. Differences between the Siglo de Oro and the Extra Viejo immediately became apparent. Incidentally, a little later I put the two rums side by side and their differences became even clearer. The Siglo de Oro is just far smoother than the Extra Viejo, and has less alcohol burn and tannin bitterness. The Extra Viejo, a very smooth rum, tates rough in comparison. Still, while the palates lean in different directions (as described below), the overall character of both products is similar. I would characterize Siglo de Oro as a refined version of the Extra Viejo rather than a totally different rum.
The Siglo de Oro leans towards a gentle honeyed character, versus more of a caramel profile in the Extra Viejo. While sweet, the palette is complex. The honey evolves into a hint of waxy honeycomb on the tongue, and there is a little bitterness in the finish. The wood and tanin tastes you would expect in a fine old rum are present, but lingering behind a wall of sweet and pleasant flavors. Sipping on this rum you enjoy a complex medley of dried fruit like figs, bananas and apricots. The spicy notes in the Extra Viejo are moderated to mere subtle hints in the Siglo de Oro. While the flavors in this rum tend towards the sweet of the spectrum, their highly concentrated form and the exceptional balance prevent the impression of sweetness. The finish is dry enough to prepare you for another sip. At the same time though, the taste lingers in your mouth and you feel you can afford to wait before actually taking that next sip.
Siglo de Oro is a subtle rum, perhaps a bit too subtle for me, but still dangerously good stuff. Given that they export a little, it is worth keeping an eye out for.
Incidentally, and perhaps this sounds wrong, it tastes very good with just a little coconut water. Same for the Extra Viejo.