Enjoying a rum is about more than drinking it in a cocktail, it is about getting to know it and learning to unfold its many layers.
The first thing you need to know is how to smell: different glasses offer different “sweet spots,” so always use the same glass for your tasting sessions; get to know the glass so the glass can help you know the rum (in a future article we’ll discuss advanced glassware selection for specific rums).
Once you have the rum inside the glass, open your mouth slightly and breathe in the rum’s aroma through your nose and mouth. This technique helps reduce the “burn” and allows you to detect subtle hints and undertones not easily perceived otherwise (to test this, try inhaling the rum first with your mouth closed, then again breathing in through both the nose and mouth).
The second thing you need to know is how to taste: to fully uncover all the nuances of a rum, you should try to reduce its strength to about 40-Proof (20% alcohol by volume), which typically involves mixing the rum with an equal part of water. Compare the aroma and taste of the same rum diluted and undiluted to see the difference.
Here are my tasting notes for the Cortez and Abuelo rum product lines from Panama. Use them as a starting point as you come up with your own interpretations.
Ron Cortez Blanco “Light Dry” (75-Proof): True to its name, this rum is crystal clear and has a very attractive shimmer. The aroma is very straightforward, with elements that are both fruity and sweet. The body is light and silky, the taste is reminiscent of that of a light sugarcane syrup: naturally sweet and hopelessly refreshing. While this is a well-crafted white rum that could be enjoyed on the rocks, its body, aroma and taste make it a versatile mixer which deserves a place in all Panamanian bars.
Ron Cortez Oro “Dark Dry” (80-Proof): This rum’s light amber color suggests aging and, with it, a peek into the marvelous world of oak. The aroma is robust, with fruity, woody and nutty components. The body is light and smooth, the taste is like that of a young brandy, the aftertaste is clean and sweet with a hint of caramel. When compared to the Cortez Blanco, it is abundantly clear what the impact of time –and the hand of a Master Blender- can be on a rum. Perfect on the rocks and with carbonated mixers.
Ron Cortez Añejo 3 Años (75-Proof): This rum has a medium dark amber color with copper undertones. Whereas in the previous two products the fruitiness and sweetness are the primary elements of the nose, this rum’s aroma is predominantly oaky, followed by dry fruit and ending with light vanilla. The body is medium-light and silky smooth. In the palate it is not as sweet as the aroma suggests, yet it is every bit as oaky. As a result of barrel aging, tannins are high, as is the “nutty” component of the rum. This rum can be enjoyed neat in a snifter, on the rocks or as a mixer in light cocktails.
Ron Abuelo Añejo Reserva Especial (75-Proof): This rum has an inviting iridescent light amber glow with tints of orange and copper. The aroma is complex and is comprised of several layers. First is the sweet scent of vanilla, followed quickly by the smell of wet oak and finished by hints of sweet fruits and honey. In the palate it opens up nicely and smoothly, revealing a light-bodied yet naturally flavorful rum. The taste buds first capture a light sweetness and then the vanilla-laden presence of the oak. Both of these tastes combine seamlessly and linger for a few seconds after swallowing. The oak aftertaste is very enjoyable and inviting.
Ron Abuelo Añejo 7 Años Reserva Especial (80-Proof): This rum has a dark amber color with reddish hues. The aroma is that of an old aging warehouse full of rum-soaked oak barrels: fruity, spicy and –of course- oaky, expressed as wet wood, light vanilla and toasted nuts. In the palate this rum smoothly unfolds to confirm all the elements suggested by the aroma, making this a perfectly balanced spirit. The aftertaste is refined and thought evoking. This rum deserves to be enjoyed neat in a cognac snifter, while sitting in a quiet place, shared with only the best company.
Luis Ayala is an author and rum consultant with Rum Runner Press, Inc. To learn more about rum, please visit http://www.rumshop.net/ or http://www.rumuniversity.com/.