El Dorado 21-Year-Old Special Reserve Rum: Searching Out Guyana’s Rich, Liquid Gold
by Ken Gargett
I must confess to an appalling omission. As a (very) long-term fan of great rum, I have never really spent any time looking at the offerings from the El Dorado distillery in Guyana.
Why? No excuse and no reason, just one of those things. It wasn’t that it wasn’t on offer. Rather, it just happened. Mea culpa and very much my loss. And something I am correcting.
A further admission. The “corrections” started pretty much at the top with El Dorado’s stunning 21-Year-Old (there is a 25-Year-Old, which I’ve yet to find, but the search is on).
At around AUD$200, it is no small investment, but I’d suggest that it is a raging bargain in comparison to what you’d have to pay for a cognac or malt of similar quality. It is, quite simply, one of the truly great rums available.
Guyana has a rich history of rum production, dating back to the mid-1600s. Within a hundred years of commencing production, there were more than 300 sugar estates producing their own rums, many of which were shipped to Great Britain under the name Demerara Rum, now a protected name for those rums produced in the eponymous county.
Despite the impressive history time has not been kind to the rum industry of Guyana, and much of the remaining production has been consolidated into a single operation, where some of the oldest stills in the world continue to provide some fantastic rums.
Demerara Distillers Ltd. is apparently the largest supplier of bulk rum to both North America and Europe, but it is the pointy-end stuff that excites us. It claims to have the last remaining wooden continuous Coffey still in operation, with the El Dorado rums being the result.
There is a mythical 25-Year-Old, but if it tops the stunning 21-Year-Old Special Reserve then it must be a rum for drinking on bended knee. I confess I’m keen to track it down.
The 21-Year-Old caught the attention of the world when, at the highly respected Chicago Beverage Tasting Institute, it was awarded 98/100, the highest score ever achieved by any rum. It was described as “one of the world’s greatest rum drinking experiences.”
Hard to argue. This is a rum that has blown me away and I can fully understand, and echo, the fuss.
It is worth noting that rums from El Dorado bear an “age statement,” whereby the age noted is the youngest rum in the blend. So this rum is a blend of components 21 years of age and older.
This is the same as one finds for whisky from Scotland (and rums from English-speaking countries) but beware as many rums work with the solera system – and that may feature the component that is the oldest, not the youngest, in the blend.
In any event, the El Dorado 21-Year-Old is a seriously aged spirit, making the price seem like the biggest steal since the United States pinched Alaska from Russia for just $7 million.
If you still need convincing, think what one would pay for a great malt or cognac where the youngest component was 21 years of age. A fair whack more than this, I’d suggest.
A few technicalities. This rum is 43 percent and is made in a combination of stills – the Enmore wooden Coffey still, the Versailles single wooden pot still, and the Albion Savalle still.
The rums comprising the blend are between 21 and 25 years of age (other reports suggest that, in fact, the oldest components are much more venerable than that) and have been matured in 45-gallon oak casks, which are situated – in Guyana, of course – within six degrees of the equator.
Complexity is achieved by using three of the eight different stills, those noted above, to provide a range of styles for blending. The Albion Savalle, a four-column, French still “inherited” from the eighteenth-century Uitvlught Estate on the west coast of Demerara county, provides the noticeable sweetness.
The aromas flow through an array of flavors and characters – spices, notably cinnamon, a hint of white chocolate, orange rind, Madagascar vanilla, butterscotch, a whiff of caramel, old teak, cigar box, raisins, and much more. Glorious stuff.
A lovely supple texture. Intense, balanced, and yet even with quite a dense weight, it has an elegance. Incredible length and it maintains both intensity and that elegance over this length – a fine tightrope indeed. Although there is sweetness, it is a drier rum than one envisages, and there is not a hint of cloying or harshness on the finish.
A rum to be drunk with reverence. Anyone putting anything more than a small ice cube or a few drops of liberating water in this rum is committing an offense of the gravest order. Enjoy it with a cigar but make certain it is a cigar worthy of it.
It always amazes me when one hears spirit lovers dismissing good rum simply because they are convinced that rum cannot match it with the best. El Dorado 21-Year-Old is a brilliant rum, a great spirit, a wonderful drink, and one that can sit comfortably with the finest of any style.
For more information, please visit www.theeldoradorum.com/our-portfolio/luxury-cask-aged/21-year-old.
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I’ve never been able to justify the 21-year-old but even their younger rums are quite nice. A friend from Newfoundland, Canada introduced me to them.
Ta, Randy. Yes, it is certainly not an everyday rum for me either. I’m keen to try the full range now.
The 21 is a very good rum as long as you are aware of its dosage / adulteration and accept it. The 25 year old, retailing for five times the price of the 21, is a more controversial rum as it has been more heavily sugared, to the point where many (myself among them) think it’s bordering on liqueur territory. Not saying it’s entirely bad, just be aware of the matter before dropping serious coin on it.
Thanks for the thoughts, much appreciated. And you raise a really interesting question that I think rum producers are facing at the moment: the level of sweetness.
But first, while I know what you mean, personally I think using the word ‘adulteration’ is a little pejorative. It is part of what we expect with most rums and if this doesn’t sit well with some then I’d suggest they look to a different spirit. It is a bit like saying that dosage with champagne is adulteration, which I would strongly dispute. But leave that aside.
The drier styles are certainly something that some producers and consumers are looking at and I have been talking to one of our local importers about looking at a range of exactly that.
I’m also chasing a bottle from (and my apologies for what probably seems a bit obtuse) what might be best termed an unexpected source but one I respect greatly and I think that this particular rum will be very much along the drier style. If it is as good as I hope, I’ll definitely put up a review.