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Old 11-20-2007, 12:41 PM   #1
Matusalem
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Default Puerto Rican rum

This thread was started to answer some of the questions about Puerto Rican Rum.

Which raises the question - perhaps a side thread (and if so we can move the discussion), but why is Puerto Rican rum generally less diverse in flavor? Of course it's hard to tell a Puerto Rican that, but I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed. Puerto Rican rums are not completely without character it's just been my recent experience that most of what I've tasted is limited in array, and well to be honest I keep hardly any and any purchases were based on price rather than outstanding or intriguing taste (if you know what I mean).

Not meaning to step on Rican rum, just curious as I always am when ever a blanket statement comes forward that rings true with myself and my own personal taste. Are we just on the same page and have similar tastes on that particular rum destination or is there something else to it? Is the lack of diversity by design? Is that the best the industry there can do? Are most of the companies restricted to the same or similar productions thus similar results?

That last bit ( restrictions) came to mind in a discussion with a friend regarding spirits in general and how Barcardi had positioned itself into the top 15 or so brands on the market. The odd thing is they did so by selling quite a few million cases of rum. At the same time, several other brands that placed ahead of Barcardi did so selling quite a few million less cases world-wide. In the discussion I raised the point that there were 3 whiskey brands ahead and that I thought production costs generally were lower for rum - due to where it is generally produced - his assertion was that Bacardi was primarily produced in Puerto Rico and therefore likely subject to regulations (read final costs) not likely to resemble 3rd world wages and resources.
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Old 11-21-2007, 12:05 PM   #2
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The short answer is that most Puerto Rican rum is highly distilled from molasses, but too many people think of Bacardi when they think of Puerto Rican Rum, but there's a lot more to Puerto Rican Rum than Bacardi which is only recently gaining market share among local drinkers on that island.

I'll be editing this post as soon as time permits.
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Old 11-21-2007, 01:01 PM   #3
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I've tasted many white Puerto Rican rums - well, I think all of the ones that one can get in the US. Bacardi, Palo Viejo, DonQ, Ron Rico and Castillo. To generalize, I find them all harsh and fairly free of taste. But to be fair, this generalization fits just about all of the 25 white molasses-based rums that I have studied.

Of the above PR rums, Palo Viejo is my favorite. It carries the most flavor of molasses, thus to me it "tastes like rum" and is one of the least harsh ones. When judged in context next to the other white rums it is quite good, though Cruzan White and Pyrat Blanco are certainly better. Oronoco blows them all away, IMHO, but isn't quite in this "molasses-based" category. If it were included we'd have to include cachaças and agricoles.


As to why PR rum is less diverse in flavor... Well, I'm not sure that this is a fair statement. I've had plenty of whites that are similarly poor in taste. To me it seems that white rums in general have gone downhill, from things I've heard and tastes that I can imagine. I'd bet that Bacardi had something to do with it as others played the game of "follow the leader."

I really have to wonder if the current state of whites' tastes has to do with American tastes. Given that vodka is, by far, the number one spirit in the US, it just may be that the white rums try to get close to vodka, in order to get more sales away from vodka. If this is the reason, it's a damned shame.

I've read articles from Jeff "Beachbum" Berry (Tiki cocktail historian) and Wayne Curtis (Author of "And A Bottle Of Rum") who both describe their separate encounters with Bacardi white rums from the 1920s. I've discussed this a bit with Jeff, too. From their descriptions I get the sense - easily - that the old Bacardi is nothing at all like today's white rums. It was fruity and floral with a lot of taste and much smoother than the white rums of today. I'd have to assume that these rums were made using Bacardi's process of heavy distillation and filtering, the process that made them famous.

Why the heck did they change for the worse between then and today?

Considering American tastes and their love of vodka it makes sense, on the surface, that rum makers wanted a slice of vodka's business and geared their rums to taste more like vodka. But this theory has potential flaws, since bourbon was the top seller until 1976, when vodka finally got to be #1 in US sales. One could easily theorize that rum had little chance of cutting into bourbon's business, so rum makers went after the easier target and tried to cut into vodka sales. And it's probable that they were doing so long before 1976.

The stories from Curtis and Berry make it apparent that the Bacardi of the 1920s was quite different than today's. Research into tiki cocktails, which often contained white PR rums, it seems likely that the rums of the 1940s and even 1950s were quite different than today's. But then my research fades, as tiki began to fail.

I occasionally run into some information, but nothing definitive. I've got two books on Bacardi waiting to be read - hopefully they'll contain some insight. Until I find some great insight or fairly definitive reasoning, I have to go with the assumption that the rum makers changed their products to taste more like vodka. But this theory, at this point in my research, is still rather thin. Little of my research has been definitive, and much of what I've said here should be considered opinion backed by some facts.


Hopefully Ed can share more information and insight. I've got a serious hankering to know more about the development - or regression - of white rums over the years.

Last edited by Scottes; 11-21-2007 at 01:05 PM.
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Old 11-21-2007, 02:25 PM   #4
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Before World War II Puerto Rican rum wasn't much different from other Caribbean rums. The white, unaged rum was not very pleasant but when aged it was much better and found its way into many citrus and spice based drinks became to be known as tiki drinks. It should be noted that few of these rums were considered what we now call sipping rums.

After World War II the picture changed in part due to the United States involvement in Puerto Rico and the cold war. To reward the Puerto Rican people for their valuable contribution to the recent war effort, and to support the fledgling Puerto Rican economy, the US agreed to return the Federal Excise Tax charged on distilled spirits coming from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands back to the governments of those islands. Today that tax is just over $25 a case for 12 750ml bottles. Until recently, the US navy's biggest base outside the north American continent was located on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico.

During the war alcohol distillers on the US mainland were busy making alcohol for the war effort and whiskey was in short supply. Rum, on the other hand, was available but most of this spirit suffered from the poor reputation it had earned over the previous decades.

In the 1950s the quality of Puerto Rican rum was raised after Federal Excise Tax from distilled spirits exports began to be returned to the island and was used to scientifically approach the problems that face the islands distillers. This scientific approach to rum production yielded several changes which were later adopted by distillers throughout the Caribbean.

First the fermentation process was addressed. The cleanliness of the fermentation tanks was discovered to be one factor in making consistent batches of distilled spirits. Various yeast strains were found to affect the taste and flavor of the distilled product. Yeast was developed which would complete the fermentation process more quickly reducing the time required for fermentation which also reduced the amount of unwanted fermentation products from other bacteria present in the fermentation vats.

The scientific approach to distillation led to improvements in the distillation equipment and to more advanced multiple column stills. The Puerto Rican government also adapted legislation that required all rum exports to be aged at least one year in oak barrels, the first of several islands which now has such regulations. And as Puerto Rican rum improved it became more popular partly due to a very successful marketing campaign by Bacardi, Ron Rico and other Puerto Rican rum producers.

Last but not least, the sugar cane itself was investigated and new species were introduced which were better adapted to the diverse growing conditions found on the island.

So what about the great rum from the 1920s? I've had the opportunity to taste some very good rums from Bacardi and other rums makers, but it's worth noting that in almost every case only the best products survive the better part of a century. But it should also be noted that these rums were generally aged and then filtered before bottling. In the years that followed, the aging time was reduced or eliminated prompting the Puerto Rican government to legislate a minimum age on exports.

And as a student of old rum recipes I've noticed that most of these recipes call for aged rums, which are generally better than their unaged counterparts. Many of the great tiki drinks were developed with aged Jamaican, Martinique, Barbados and Cuban rums, rarely have I seen a recipe that calls for a white spirit that is not been aged.
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Old 11-21-2007, 03:03 PM   #5
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Quote:
This scientific approach to rum production yielded several changes...
Have you had the opportunity to read any of the papers from Rafael Arroyo? Any ideas where I can get any, in English?

Quote:
Many of the great tiki drinks were developed with aged Jamaican, Martinique, Barbados and Cuban rums, rarely have I seen a recipe that calls for a white spirit that is not been aged.
Are you saying that some of these "white" rums where in fact aged for extended periods and then filtered? I think about Flor De Cana's 4-year aging, and I have a hard time believing that this is on par with the rum that Jeff Berry and Wayne Curtis describe. Would that 1920s Bacardi rums they tasted have been aged even longer?
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Old 11-21-2007, 04:42 PM   #6
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Default Gifted Rums of Puerto Rico Tasting - some quick notes

I recently had the pleasure of hosting a rum tasting event featuring some notable rums from Puerto Rico. We started with the new Limon flavored rum from Don Q, which is delightful straight or on the rocks, or in a mojito as we discovered. We also sampled Don Q Anejo and a new spirit to be introduced to the US market soon, Don Q Gran Anejo. The Anejo is perhaps the classic Puerto Rican gold rum, worthy of being enjoyed on the rocks, or mixed in a fine cocktail. The Gran Anejo, originally blended to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of Puerto Rico, takes the fine flavor another step in the direction of greatness. We also tasted the classic Barrilito Three Star, a clear favorite among rum enthusiasts on the island. The surprise of the evening was another fine product soon to be introduced to the US market, Reserva Aneja by Trigo. Finally, we tasted the Private Stock from Captain Morgan, a spiced rum more suitable for sipping that their standard spiced rum.
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Old 11-21-2007, 05:01 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scottes View Post
Would that 1920s Bacardi rums they tasted have been aged even longer?
As an indication of age, the label on Havana Club's Blanco Aсejo claims 3 years.

In regards to the 4 year old Flor de Caсa white, it is distilled to a much higher degree than the white rums to which Wayne and Jeff are referring which gives it a lighter taste although the last time I tasted that one there were hints of citrus in the light body and finish.
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Old 11-22-2007, 12:19 AM   #8
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Ed, sorry to repeat, but I'm very interested... Any ideas on obtaining the works of Rafael Arroyo?
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Old 11-22-2007, 03:09 PM   #9
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Here is a description of patent number 2,386,924 filed Oct 16, 1945 by Rafael Arroyo titled Production of Heavy Rum.
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Old 11-22-2007, 05:31 PM   #10
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Yeah, that's the only thing I could find, too. Bummer. His works sound like they'd be extremely interesting.
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