I’m by no stretch of the imagination a rum expert, far from it. Also my palate is not that great, it has probably been ruined by daily doses of hot sauce. Let’s just say, for context, that I am forbidden to gauge if dishes are too spicy for other people; letting me do so, was deemed to border on criminal negligence. So if you are looking for an insider’s opinion or a master’s subtle tasting notes, well this ain’t it. However, if you are looking for 5 minutes to kill between emails at work, and are even vaguely interested in rum or drinkskutlur in general, by all means, read on.
A few months ago, a neighbor handed me a bottle of rum in a leather pouch. He said he wasn’t going to drink it, and he likely knew, from the noise my recycling bin makes when it’s emptied, that I most certainly would. He told me he had it since the 1980’s (my ears perked up) and had won it in an office raffle. It had originally been a gift from a Venezuelan official to his team. I was intrigued, thanked him profusely and made very half-hearted mumbled noises about he shouldn’t have and I couldn’t possibly. Of course I could and I did.
Through sheer coincidence, or maybe the rum gods were just showing their favor, I had the week before tasted the exact same rum: Ron Anejo Aniversario Pampero, so I knew a little bit about it. No age statement, dark, not too sweet, produced in Venezuela and launched in 1963 to commemorate the 25 years of the Pampero company. If my neighbor was correct and he had it since the 80’s, I was holding a product made back when you could still cross the U.S. border with nothing but a smile, and phones were attached to walls and somehow never far from your parents. Right away, I noticed differences between this bottle and the one I had recently sampled. The leather pouch was of much higher quality for one, and the bottle shape and label had changed (several times as it turns out). I started paying attention to the details and got a bit of a surprise.
This wasn’t just a vintage bottle of Pampero Aniversario, it was THE vintage Aniversario, the first edition, from 1963, that bottle was over 50 years old.
Except it wasn’t, I was wrong.
Wrong, wrongiddy-wrong, mayor of Wrongsville, sitting on the train to Wrong town, wrong. What I first took to be the production date of the bottle, was actually the date of registration for something. Big let down, rum nerd got excited. Since I couldn’t find info about that label/bottle shape to ballpark when it could have been made, I had no way of knowing when it was produced. In that case, Occam’s razor dictated that it was a bottle from the 80’s, and not from the 60’s. Still, pretty old bottle
So what to do? Well, like anybody else would, I popped it open rather sharpish, poured it over ice with some coke and voilà. Deeeeee-lish!
Of course not, what am I a savage?
Old liquor is essentially a time capsule (I once bored my wife to tears by waxing overly lyrical about air from the Second World War inside a bottle of 1945 Maury), and though it was not as ancient as I had hoped, it was still produced during the halcyon days of my youth. I was quite curious to see what kind of rum was produced during the era that gave us eyeliner for men, neon colored clothes, acid wash jeans but also the best musical decade ever. That of course, provided me with one of my least bad ideas, I would get a bottle of contemporary Aniversario, some divers and chillers, and we could have a tasting, see how the two rums compared.
It turned out to be much harder than it sounded. Pampero isn’t sold anywhere near (or reasonably not far) and the D&C connection that could get it in Florida said it was no longer available there. It took some time, some backroom deals, laws may or may not have been bent, but in the end a bottle was procured. Then I got a little worried. How did my neighbor store this bottle? In the back of a dark cool cupboard with an even temperature, on a sunny window sill, or worse, above a roaring fireplace in a basement? Was the rum inside still any good or had it been ruined by years of sunlight or violent temperature changes? There was obviously only one way to truly find out, but turns out my neighbor must be some kind of alcohol keeping genius.
The day of the tasting finally came.
Top tip: opening an old bottle of any alcohol is a delicate matter. Remove any dirt from around the cork/stopper prior to opening and pull straight up, no twisting, exceedingly gently. A quick prayer or a gathering of the Force won’t hurt either. Should you succeed in taking out the cork without damaging it, do not reuse it, it will break apart sooner or later and probably sooner. Replace with a clean stopper. Should your cork disintegrate, or bits of it drop into the bottle, you will have to decant the whole thing and remove every piece to avoid tainting the liquid. I certainly did.
Like I mentioned above, Aniversario is a non-age statement rum. Currently, the company’s website says that it is made from a blend of rums up to four years old, while different sources claim it is a blend of rums of at least 4 years old. Of course, no clue what it might have been in the 1980’s.
All this to say that even with around 30 years in the bottle, this is not technically a rum aged for 30 years, that would require 30 years inside a cask. However there is such a thing as “old bottle effect”. Spirit inside a bottle will change over time, albeit extremely slowly and not in the same way as when in contact with wood. Until recently it was disputed if old bottle effect even existed.
Top tip #2: You really need to take your time with old alcohol, ideally, and that means you absolutely should, you have to leave it in the glass a minute for each year it has spent in the cask. 20 years old scotch? It needs to sit 20 minutes in your glass to open up properly. It’s sort of like letting your steak rest after cooking it, but different.
So what happened?
Well, the two rums tasted… exactly the same. Or very nearly so. I think the old bottle effect was noticeable in that the older rum was more viscous in the mouth and its flavors seemed a little more intense, but the flavor profile was otherwise identical. I was amazed that in over 30 years, all that goes into making this rum would change so little that it seemed to be almost the same liquor. That leads me to believe Industrias Pampero are still producing their rums, or at least the Aniversario, exactly as they did 30 years ago, either that or their blender belongs in the X-Men. In a world of business rum shenanigans, cost cutting and running after market shares, I find that truly amazing and frankly worth making a fuss about.
Is the rum, or rather are the rums, any good? I certainly think so, very different from what you might expect if you are used to other Venezuelan rums like Diplomatico, but excellent in mixed drinks and very pleasant to sip on its own with a touch of water. I think of this as an older style of rum, more restrained on the sugar and vanilla, though I would guess that there is still quite a bit of colorant added.
Short of having a generous (and abstemious) neighbor or a heavily customized DeLorean, your best bet to taste rum from the 80’s, is to buy a bottle of today’s Aniversario Pampero.