Rum in the Dominican Republic is about more than just Brugal. Besides the omnipresent giant there are a host of other producers, including Barcelo, Bermudez, Don Rhon, Macorix and Siboney. You just have to look a little harder to find their products. In this tasting I focus on aged offerings from producers other than Brugal.
Barcelo would be the closest rival to Brugal. Barcelo Imperial competes with Brugal Extra Viejo at the premium end (though is priced a little higher), its cheaper products can be found in quite a few bars and restaurants. You can also see the Barcelo name on hotels and resorts around the island.
Barcelo Anejo: Aged rum with a caramel, honey and citrus palette. It is light and sweet, with a little burn. This rum lacks the smoothness, complex aftertaste, and tobacco notes of the Imperial. More a mixer than a sipper.
Barcelo Imperial: Excellent aged rum from Barcelo. Since around 2005 it has come impressively packaged in a clear bottle with an etched label – reminiscent of Woodford Reserve bourbon (left label in photo). The old packaging was more traditional (right label in photo).
A pungent, slightly smoky nose is followed by a bitter-sweet caramel on the tongue, with hints of tobacco and bitter oranges. The aftertaste is complex, short and bitter-sweet. This is a fairly simple rum. Rather than presenting a huge range of flavors, it takes a few flavors and balances them carefully. I am not into cigars but this seems like a good cigar rum, robust enough to be complemented by tobacco rather than overwhelmed. A straightforward and satisfying sipper that you can reach for regularly. It contains few surprises but remains interesting. Dominicans must agree since this rum is a big competitor to Brugal Extra Viejo at the premium end of the market.
Incidentally, I did a comparison between the old and new incarnations of the Barcelo Imperial. The older packaging is still in circulation in the Dominican Republic, particularly in tourist shops. Bottles in the old packaging are often sold at a higher price than the new ones based on a claim that the rum is different. Since Barcelo revised its product line up at the time of the repackaging it seems logical that the formula of the rum itself could have changed. To check, I compared freshly opened bottles of each product, an old bottle from 2004 and a new bottle from 2008. I found them identical, but preferred the 2008 bottle. I felt the 2004 bottle had a slight ‘plastic’ taste. The 2008 bottle also seemed a little richer and fuller. Tamper proof plastic pouring device on the old bottle (discountined on the new one) may have impacted the taste (though the new bottles also use a plastic stopper), lying around in tropical heat for several years may have had an impact, or perhaps I was imagining things. In any case, while the rum seems unchanged the new packaging is much more stylish.
Bermudez claims to be the Dominica Republic’s oldest rum producer. The label only dates back to the mid 19th century, so I guess that makes the other producers even newer. It also claims to produce the country’s smoothest rums. They certainly are quite smooth. Bermudez products are not often found in bars and restaurants, but are not too hard to find in supermarkets and small corner shops.
Don Armando (10 YO): You have to squint to see it, but Bermudez has a pretty cool label. The company trademark is a tiger’s face, but since the face is smaller than most of the text it does not leap out at you. The understated label design hints at the subtlety of the rum itself. This honey colored rum is sharper and drier then the Brugal rums. The profile includes orange, honeycomb, vanilla, light coffee, and a slight lemony edge in the finish. The flavors remain distinct on the tongue (the waxy edge in the honeycomb breaks them up), but they cooperate rather than fighting. A pleasant light bodied sipper.
Bermudez Aniversario 1852 (12 YO): A significantly darker honey gold than the Don Armando, this rum pours with a somewhat viscous consistency. The nose is softer than the Don Armando, but shares the same honeycomb and orange profile. However, this rum is smoother and richer than the Don Armando, losing the sharpness of the younger rum while retaining some of its dryness. The honeycomb characteristic persists, but in a smoother and less waxy form. The orange notes tend towards bitter orange. The lemony finish is gone, but the coffee and vanilla remain. There are soft blossomy notes I did not get in the younger rum. The overall impression is of exotic bush honey. An interesting rum that I will be seeking out in future.
DON RHON PRODUCTS
Don Rhon Gran Reserva VSGR: This rum comes in a cute little bottle shaped like a wooden cask. On tasting I was struck by its odd nose, which included a distinct ‘vermouthy’ note. The nose was not exactly vermouth per se, instead being some specific botanical I associate with vermouth. The body was thin and hinting at rough. There was a strong chocolate note, but little sweetness. Normally I would like ‘bitter chocolate’, but something about this rum seemed artificial and not very pleasant. Dilution with soda-water brought out a fragrant pisco-like note that was almost appealing. Overall I found this rum unpleasant. Some people may like it though. It is priced like a quality rum so presumably something in there appeals to someone.
Vieja Reserva 8 Anos: Smooth, with fairly light and subtle flavors. Drier than the Brugal rums. Caramel, citrus, honey, faint dried herbs (mint?). Smells almost like a glass of Coke (kola nut aroma?), but the taste is all rum. Smooth enough to be a pleasant sipper. Given the herbal notes perhaps this could also be an interesting Mojito rum?
These rums are a recent arrival on the Dominican rum scene. Although not particularly hard to track down aficionados like to introduce them as the Dominican Republic’s ‘secret rum’. There is a story that the label was originally Cuban, disappeared amidst the political upheavals there, and has recently been revived.
Dorado Superior: Basic gold rum. Thinner and rougher than the Brugal products. I only tried it once, over dinner, and it failed to grab me. Perhaps I was intimidated by having accidentally ordering an entire bottle?
Reserva Especial: Smooth, sweet and light. Golden honey with pale caramel. The addition of fruit juices brings out a slightly interesting coffee note. A smooth and pleasant rum, but for my money too pedestrian and boring to bother with. As a straight sipper it does not approach the similarly priced Brugal Extra Viejo.