Rum’s the word: Tasting Central and South American Rums

Location: South America

The Caribbean may be the best-known among the rum producing regions, but producers from Central and South America are now helping to draw rum lovers’ attention to a whole new part of the map. Imbibe assembled a team of tasters to sample a selection with the help of rum guru Ian Burrell. Clinton Cawood reports

There’s no doubt that there are good quality rums now coming out of Central and South America but, aside from a few major brands, very few of them have made their presence felt in the UK so far.

In fact, this part of the world has a roll-call of rum producing countries, from Guyana, Guatemala and Venezuela, to Mexico and Peru, each with their own climates and culture, as Ian Burrell describes in his feature on page 86. But how different does that make the rum styles? Our panel went a-tasting at Cottons rum shack in north-west London.


A selection of 12 rums from Central and South America were tasted blind, and evaluated on appearance, aroma, flavour and finish, giving a final score out of 100. Marks were awarded for balance and complexity.

81 XM 10yo (Guyana)

Good oak characteristics, as well as summer fruit, toffee apple, orange and spice, delivered with balanced sweetness, earned this rum high marks from the panel. Tasters were particularly impressed by the mouthfeel and length of this Guyanese offering. Goodman described this as ‘elegant, without being too dry or too sweet, and the finish just keeps going and going…’

40% abv. RRP £25.50.

Speciality Brands, 020 8838 9367

78 El Dorado 15yo (Guyana)

Andreotti summed this up as ‘arrogant on the nose’. This was a crowd-pleaser, with aromas of dried fruit, clove spice and dark chocolate, combined with a full, rich palate of raisins, caramel and coffee. For Goodman, this was ‘soft enough to be mixed, but smoky enough to stand out’, while Matthews simply said: ‘I want to know what this is so I can buy it and enjoy it with a Cuban cigar.’

43% abv. RRP £35.11.

Inspirit, 020 7739 1333

76 Millionario Solera 15 (Peru)

Tasters primarily remarked on the dominant honey and maple-syrup sweetness of this full-bodied rum. Additional characteristics of oak, dried fruit and cocoa added complexity – what Knight described as ‘a concerto of flavour’ – with a long, sweet finish. Goodman called this ‘sweet but very addictive’.

40% abv. RRP £36.95.

Royal Mile Whiskies, 0131 524 9380

74 Los Valientes 20yo (Mexico)

Primarily defined by its oak characteristics, Mexico’s representative was full-bodied and complex, with raisin, berry, coffee and cocoa flavours, complemented by a floral note and rounded out with a long attractive finish. Goodman likened this to a cognac, which Knight agreed with, saying: ‘This is an after-dinner rum… an older-gentleman’s rum’.

43% abv. RRP £39.95/50cl.

Bibendum, 020 7722 5577

74 Zacapa Sistema Solera 23 (Guatemala)

Apart from a few detractors, Zacapa drew effusive praise from much of the panel. This warm fruity rum had apricot, orange rind, toffee and Christmas cake aromas. Citrus notes carried through to the palate, together with caramel, chocolate, brown sugar and dark fruit. More than one taster commented on distinctive sherry characteristics.

40% abv. RRP £48.49.

Reserve Brands, 0845 751 5101

73 Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)

Another for the sweet-toothed on the panel, Pospichal thought this was ‘like a liqueur, even on the finish’. Aromas ranged from butterscotch, banana, dates, demerara sugar, honey and ‘candy shop’, while Burrell described the palate as ‘initially banoffee pie, with a hint of nutmeg, cocoa and caramel’.

40% abv. RRP £34.99.

Speciality Brands, 020 8838 9367

72 Santa Teresa 1796 (Venezuela)

Undoubtedly one of the spiciest rums in the tasting, panellists commented on its relative soft and light palate. Aromas included dried fruit, vanilla, butterscotch, white pepper, and even saffron, while the palate brought caramel, almond and more spice. Tasters variously referred to this rum as easy-going, clean and pleasant to drink.

40% abv. RRP £38.49.

Mangrove, 020 8551 4966

71 Pampero Anniversario (Venezuela)

Another high-scoring offering from Venezuela, this was a robust offering with Christmas cake, butterscotch, vermouth and cinnamon aromas. Sweetness on the palate that inspired Kratena to liken it to Pedro Ximénez sherry, with other descriptors including cocoa, dark cherry and sultanas. Andreotti thought this was ‘like an old fruit liqueur at first, with a fruit-chocolate finish’.

40% abv. RRP £30.49.

Reserve Brands, 0845 751 5101

69 Flor de Caña 12yo (Nicaragua)

This was defined by its dryness, which Burrell suggested was a characteristic of Nicaraguan rum in general, and which elicited comparisons to cognac. Descriptors from the panel included biscuit, dark chocolate and dried apricot. ‘Definitely an alternative to cognac, with many interesting layers,’ concluded Goodman.

40% abv. RRP £34.99.

Amathus, 020 8808 4181

63 Skipper (Guyana)

Given that this was the only dark rum on show, Skipper placed admirably well, with its bitter chocolate, leather, coffee and orange citrus notes. Its detractors disliked a bitter, molasses quality on the palate, but others praised its tobacco and caramel flavours, and spicy finish.

40% abv. RRP £15.95.

Marblehead, 0141 955 9091

62 Viejo de Caldas 8 (Colombia)

Fruit was the dominant characteristic of this rum, which some identified as berry or pineapple, but which Knight pinpointed as Juicy Fruit chewing gum. On the palate, this showed caramel, toffee and liquorice. At worst, tasters identified a burnt, bitter flavour, but at best this was described as earthy, light, and easy drinking.

40% abv. RRP £25.

M and C Wines, 020 7407 3770

52 Cacique 500 (Venezuela)

Tasters felt this was missing something, rather than faulting any of the existing characteristics. On the upside, the panel complimented a long fruity finish, with citrus and spice. One taster suggested that this was refreshing, given its lighter profile.

40% abv. RRP £34.99.

Speciality Brands, 020 8838 9367

Thanks to Ian Burrell and the team at Cottons for hosting the tasting

How to mix it…


Alexander Knight, Cottons

‘I thought I’d make a punch because it’s a hot day, and I think this rum’s good with the fruit. It’s really refreshing…’

50ml Millionario 15 Solera
10ml Monin vanilla syrup
60ml freshly squeezed orange juice
Mango juice
Dash of grenadine

Method: Muddle melon, add remaining ingredients and shake with crushed ice. Top up with ice and swizzle.


Riccardo Andreotti, Northbank

‘I’d really recommend enjoying this rum neat, as it’s the outcome of hard work, patience and passion. I’d serve it with a piece of dark chocolate or a Cuban cigar. If it had to be mixed though…’

45ml Zacapa Centenario 23yo
30ml Amaro Averna
90ml lime juice
A touch of sugar syrup
Prosecco top

Method: Shaken with a touch of sugar syrup, strain and top with prosecco. Garnish with orange zest.


Kristian Matthews, Cottons

‘I’ve been trying to make this cocktail for a while, but hadn’t quite found a rum that made it work. I can smell and taste hints of coffee, crème de cacao and Cointreau in the rum. I’d suggest this as an after dinner cocktail or alternative to a liqueur coffee.’

35ml Flor de Caña 12yo
15ml Kahlua
10ml crème de cacao dark
5ml Cointreau
15ml double cream
10ml vanilla syrup

Method: Shake all ingredients except cream and vanilla syrup. Pour all into chilled Martini glass. Then shake cream and vanilla syrup and layer on top of the rest of ingredients. Garnish with either chocolate powder or coffee beans.


Ondrej Pospichal, Loungelover

‘This combines unusual pineapple and beetroot flavours. It’s a light spring cocktail, full of vitamins like A, C and E, as well as antioxidants.’

¾ slice fresh pineapple
1 slice fresh beetroot
50ml Viejo de Caldas
20ml port (Ruby or LBV)
20ml lime juice
10ml simple sugar syrup
1 dash of orange bitters

Method: Muddle, shake and double strain.


Alex Kratena, Artesian, Langham Hotel

‘Los Valientes (the valiant ones) honours the brave heroes of the Mexican revolution. It is a fine, well balanced and sophisticated rum, so I didn’t want to go too crazy with too many ingredients, or get caught up in typical Mexican clichés (lime, agave syrup, chilli etc). So this is refreshing, easy drinking, yet very complex. Chartreuse acts both as a sweetener and a bitter/herbal element.’

30ml Ron Valientes 20yo
30ml Chartreuse (yellow)
30ml freshly squeezed lemon juice

Glass: Champagne flute

Garnish: None

Method: Shake and double strain

  • While there were some distinctive characteristics between countries, these were far less pronounced than expected.
  • Spice characters suggested a Guyanese or Venezuelan rum, while Nicaragua was defined by dryness.
  • Degree of sweetness was an important factor for tasters, and also a matter of strong personal preference.
  • Overall, the standard of the rums on offer was particularly high, with the majority scoring over 70/100.
  • While these spirits can certainly be mixed, most panellists suggested a neat serve for this calibre of rum.

The panel

Alexander Knight, Cottons

‘I was expecting these to be good, and they lived up to expectations. For me, rum is that good old Demerara style – solid with body and character – so that’s what I was looking for. To be honest, I wouldn’t even encourage ice or lime to be served with the majority of these. These are something for after dinner, with a cigar, or after a long day.’

Kristian Matthews, Cottons

‘I didn’t get a lot of spiciness from any. The difference in sweetness between them was more important for me. The Guyanese rums were noticeably sweeter. Most of these I’d treat neat, but there are a few I’d mix in a cocktail.’

Riccardo Andreotti, Northbank Restaurant

‘Whenever I’m building a list I look for something special to push the customer to expect something different – and these would do that. The more complex they are, the harder they are to mix, but I still prefer them neat, maybe matched to a nibble. If it’s spicy, you know it’s not from Nicaragua, but probably from Guyana.’

Ondrej Pospichal, Loungelover

‘I liked that we were trying non-Caribbean rums. I’m looking for character in rum. Everyone’s palate is different, and I still prefer a bit of sweetness. That’s why I chose the Colombian Viejo de Caldas to create a cocktail with.’

Alex Kratena, Artesian, Langham Hotel

‘All the rums we tasted were similar in style – I expected more diversity from this tasting. Many of them had quite a sweet profile which I didn’t appreciate very much, but I’m sure will be popular with consumers. It’s important to realise that people from Central and South America have sweeter tastes.’

JJ Goodman, The London Cocktail Club

‘It’s a pleasure to try rums that are so hard to come by. The quality was really up to scratch. Some of these may be looking to imitate styles from the Caribbean, but growing conditions are different. All of these would work as aperitifs or digestifs. I’d want to enjoy them like I would a cognac.’

Ian Burrell, Cottons

‘These are rums that don’t get much push in the UK – yet. But in Latin markets they do. Most of these are really off the beaten track. Stylistically, rums like those from Nicaragua are lighter and drier on the finish, while the Demerara style from Guyana is generally richer, but also has a distinctive smokiness.’

Davide Vaccarini, Latymer Restaurant

‘These were better than I expected. I thought the quality was very high. We get some customers asking for some of these, Zacapa maybe, but it’s really up to the trade to promote them. If you had a heavy dinner you could maybe end with some nice chocolates and one of these rums to match. People would go for that.’

Clinton Cawood, Imbibe

‘I was expecting more distinction between the styles of each producing country. The overall quality was very impressive, though. The best examples were those that were able to balance sweetness with other spice and citrus characteristics. Even if some flavour profiles blurred together, each rum on offer had a distinct personality, and each one offers a point of difference.’

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – July / August 2009

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