Made to celebrate 100 years of rum-making, this is a spirit to savor. It’s made from a blend of rums aged from 8 up to 30 years in American Whiskey barrels. The unusually deep caramel hue advertises the powerful flavors: crème brûlée, lingering and kaleidoscope notes of coffee bean, caramel, cola, muted gingerbread spices just a mere hint of sweetness..
In October, Van Gogh Imports introduced Ron Abuelo Centuria, a limited edition rum from Varela Hermanos S.A. in Panama. Created to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary, the 40-percent abv spirit ($130 a 750-ml bottle) comprises selections from the highly-guarded “Reserva de la Familia” stocks that have been aged for up to 30 years in American whiskey barrels using the solera system. The rum exhibits a smooth, rounded texture, with complex flavors and aromas. Ron Abuelo Centuria is available in California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina. For more information, visit vangoghimports.com or call the importer at 888-539-3361.
Created to honor the 100th anniversary of Panamanian distillery Varela Hermanos, founded by Don José Varela Blanco in the small town of Pesé, Ron Abuelo Centuria is produced entirely from estate-grown sugar cane by the family’s third generation.
This limited-edition bording incorporates rare private stocks from the Varela’s Reserva de la familia casks, which have been aged in American whiskey barrels as long as 30 years.
Soft, thick, and deep in flavor and texture, each sip brings nuances of smoky molasses, vanilla, an oak. Don’t even add ice. ($130)
Yes, rum is for sipping, too. Made to commemorate the company’s 100th anniversary, Centuria is a blend of Panamanian rums aged up to 30 years. At first you’re hit by its rich caramel flavors, then leather and tobacco and, finally, a little tropical spice. But mostly, you’ll be blown away by its smoothness. 40% ABV, $130..
A good liquor comes with a story. A new rum, Ron Abuelo Centuria, produced by Varela Hermanos has one worth telling. The sugar cane is grown on a Panamanian estate founded by Don Jose Varela Blanco in 1908, after emigrating from Spain. He established the first sugar mill in the Republic of Panama. In 1936, he began to distill alcohol from sugar cane juice along with his three sons. The Ron Abuelo Centuria is a limited edition bottling marking the century of production. The Varela family opened up private stock from their reserve that’s been aged up to 30 years.
The essence is in the spirit, which is priced at $130 for a 750 ml bottle. I tasted from a small sample provided to me. The notes dance in a tang of flavors — sharp and full, with a velvety disposition as it passes down the throat. It’s more appropriate for sipping in place of a whiskey, than as a party cocktail. It’s the kind of rum, I imagine, one might taste, while telling stories, cast in an amber hue. Cigar Afficionado describes it like this: “When it enters the mouth, with its voluminous body, the first sense is of the welcoming mouth feel—lush and smooth. Sweetness pours over the palate, and then comes a rush of spice that creates the rum’s nuances: sweet pastry and honey taffy, licorice drops and orange peels, ripe bananas and butter rum candy.”
An interesting detail I learned about the company in this investigation is that they actively promote green practices. Alternative fuels such as bagasse and shoot are used instead of bunker oil. Instead of burning sugar cane, they were the first manually cut the harvest, which reduces C02 emissions and produces more enriched soil. they also use recycled glass in their bottles.
Varela Hermanos is a major presence in the Panamian town of Pese, where they established a vocational institute. Students train in industrial electricity, welding, sewing and computers. It’s nice to know these things when sipping from the new batch..
To properly toast 100 years of quality rum making, Ron Abuelo, the most popular rum brand in Panama recently unveiled its limited-batch Centuria ($130, ronabuelopanama.com). Aged in white oak barrels for up to 30 years and packaged in a custom made wooden box for the seasoned rum drinker, Centuria is a blend of the company’s finest rums using its oldest reserves. Though certainly welcome as the luxe marvel of a mixed drink, it is best served neat and sipped slowly.
Is almost the season for parties of all shapes and sizes. And while there’s nothing wrong in celebrating without adult beverages, this time of year is ideal for trying new party libations. This holiday season, leave the standard merlots and chardonnays in the pantry. Keep the beer in the fridge. Instead, treat your guests to an innovative twist on the traditional cocktail. Van Gogh Vodka and Ron Abuelo rum offer the following ideas. Feel free to adapt them to your preference. And, cheers to you.
HOT CARAMEL BUTTERED RUM
3 oz Ron Abuelo Anejo rum
1 oz Van Gogh Dutch Caramel
1/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Combine all ingredients (excluding rum and vodka) into a hot drinking cup or mug. Mix it with a spoon then add rum and vodka. Pour in hot water (1 cup or more depends on personal taste) and stir it again vigorously until the mixture has dissolved. Garnish with cinnamon stick..
Ron Abuelo Centuria
Luego de un siglo de tradición “ronera”, Varela Hermanos S.A. presenta un producto que conmemora cada uno de esos cien años de producción de un brebaje con una distinción irrefutablemente superior. Ron Abuelo Centuria ofrece un aroma y un sabor complejo, resultado de una mezcla de rones selectos de sus reservas más antiguas, añejados en barriles de roble blanco hasta por treinta años.
El dominio de un arte y el tradicional sistema de envejecimiento “solera” han permitido a esta empresa mantener el carácter de estas reservas a través del tiempo. Un producto Premium que estará disponible solo en cantidades limitadas, símbolo de una pasión: el permanente deseo de elaborar el mejor ron añejo del mundo..
A Century in the Making
Recently I was given the great opportunity to visit Ron Abuelo, Panama’s top Rum producer. I was somewhat familiar with their great Rums having tasted them on several occasions including reviews found here at BevX.com. I was, however, greatly unaware of the brand’s story and woefully ignorant of the nation of Panama. I am very pleased to inform that I have resolved both issues.
The American dream is alive and well, it just so happens to be residing in Panama. Panama is a bustling and thriving nation growing at a reported rate of 8% annually. While much of the world is wondering if they should buy or sell (and sell to whom?), Panama is buying. It’s an impressive sight and a fact that Panamanians are quick to point out. There is an affirmative buzz in the warm tropical air that is nearly tangible.
While it may seem like a gratuitous deviation from the focal point of Rum-soaked adventures to talk in glorious terms about Panama’s charming and incontrovertible swagger, it’s not. Panama’s strut can be seen up close in a micro version at Ron Abuelo. This “little” Rum brand is not content to stay little for long. They are well on their way to achieving goals that can be modestly described as ambitious. These guys are far from simply being wide-eyed and idealistic and in the words of the baseball great Dizzy Dean, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”
Typically a brand enjoying rapid growth as witnessed with Ron Abuelo would raise an eyebrow or two among the quality minded consumer and writer. No such concerns are valid regarding Ron Abuelo, as they possess a cache of mature Rums that are the envy of their peers.
In order to achieve their grand plan of world domination, Varela Hermanos, the creators and producers of Ron Abuelo, made it a priority to shore-up the home market. Nearly a decade ago they purchased the Bacardi distribution and bottling operation and network in Panama City (For many years Ron Abuelo was distilling and aging Rum for Bacardi). This included a number of global Wine and Spirits brands giving them vital access to the nation’s retail and bar/restaurant outlets. This acquisition made it possible, in part, for sales to go from 2,600 cases to 500,000 cases in just eight years.
To keep pace with demand they are increasing supply. They have not yet reached their maximum output and they are increasing their Rum aging warehouses by 25% this year and 25% more again in 2012. By 2014, the year that the massive canal expansion will be completed, they expect to be selling one million cases of Spirits worldwide. That is certainly the big leagues. Typically a brand enjoying rapid growth as witnessed with Ron Abuelo would raise an eyebrow or two among the quality-minded consumer and writer. No such concerns are valid regarding Ron Abuelo, as they possess a cache of mature Rums that are the envy of their peers.
Presently, Varela Hermanos control roughly 90% of Panama’s Spirits market. Seco, Panama’s national Spirit, is their most important domestic product. Seco, a creation of Varela Hermanos, is a clear and fairly neutral Spirit made from pure sugar cane juice that is fermented and then distilled and bottled at 35% ABV (70 proof). There are several brands of Seco sold in Panama but the best selling label by far is their ubiquitous brand, Seco Herrerano. Seco is typically used with mixers in place of Vodka or Rum and is also traditionally mixed with milk. (Yes, I find this an odd concoction as well.)
Exports are Varela Hermanos’ next frontier. Presently Chile and Bolivia are their biggest export markets with Europe growing rapidly. However, the big trophy is the US. Despite the incredible difficulty of establishing and growing a brand in the United States, the Varela Hermanos team will ultimately measure their success on their ability to build a respectable following in the US.
I arrived in Panama City late the in evening. The drive in to town from the airport did little to acquaint me with the topography as the landscape was obscured by darkness. When morning broke, the window of my hotel room offered a sliver of the cityscape. Sleek, shiny, and ultra modern buildings stand tall and confident projecting an image of imagination and commerce. Little did I know that I would soon have a bird’s-eye view of Panama’s capital city and verdant countryside. At the edge of the city a helicopter was readied for our group’s journey to the distillery.
This would be my first serious helicopter ride (a quick up and down years ago was a poor substitute for the real thing). While I am no stranger to air travel, this mode of air transport was a bit more raw than my typical trip. The chopper affords no reclining seats, no in-flight movie or flight attendant to fetch a drink if the skies grew choppy.
As we lifted from the tarmac I watched the ground slip away meter by meter. A colleague spoke up and stated that the trick was not to look down until we reached our cruising altitude. This was a clever bit of information to possess and all the more clever had it been delivered while we were solidly on terra firma. Regardless, we all kept possession of our breakfast and once we reached the desired altitude we headed SW to our destination.
The 45-minute trip carried us over beautiful rolling hills of green and stone, gorgeous coastlines adorned with shiny new homes and resorts. At one point our pilot pointed to an estate on a hilltop with a perfectly manicured baseball diamond. “There is the home of Mariano Rivera,” he quipped. I must say that once I became accustomed to the movements and vibrations I found the ride to be thrilling and a super way to take in the scenery.
Arriving above the distillery we took a quick fly over the estate before touching down in a small field flanked by mango trees just adjacent to the aging warehouses. The grounds are beautiful, well-groomed and seamlessly integrated into the lush green surroundings about 15 miles from the coast near the town of Pesé.
The aging warehouses are common in design with sturdy brick and plaster topped with wooden rafters supporting a tin roof. They are open to the ambient air as is also common practice in the Caribbean. The walls are covered with the telltale black fungus (baudoinia compniacensis) that can be found clinging to the exterior of virtually every Spirits aging edifice the world over. The air is thick with the scents of local plants, flowering trees, and the sweet decadent aromas of maturating Rum.
A modern tasting and meeting facility stands out among the older structures. Here they are well-equipped to entertain visiting Rum enthusiasts. There are plans to build additional visitor oriented structures in the near future. Despite being nearly a four-hour drive from Panama City, in the heart of a predominantly agrarian community they are beyond optimistic that visitors will beat a path to their door, they expect it. The Panamanian spirit is more intoxicating than the Rum.
Ron Abuelo is naturally self-sufficient, enacting “green” processes with little fanfare doing it simply because it makes sense. The shredded cane material, once giving up its sweet juices, is compacted and bundled and used as fuel to fire the boilers and stills – a bright and efficient innovation.
Varela Hermanos chooses to cut and harvest all of its cane by hand employing 500 local citizens to perform the task. They never burn the fields prior to harvest, which is a common practice by most sugar growers and processors. The fires burn away the tops of the cane and the long leaves that sprout from the stalk. It would be more time efficient to harvest their nearly 2,000 acres of sugarcane by machine but this is not even a consideration as it would so negatively impact local families.
Ron Abuelo’s secret weapon is their incredible stock of mature Rum. Varela Hermanos has been distilling since 1936 and for decades, Ron Abuelo has provided quality aged Rums for a wide range of well-respected international Rum brands. Today the focus is finally on selling these great mature Rums under the Ron Abuelo flag.
Further, they control their entire operation and therefore their destiny. They grow their own sugarcane on land that they own. They distill their own spirit and they age it all at their estate. Their Rums are a true “single estate” product with every detail managed by Varela Hermanos.
The Rums are created by carefully blending two styles of Rum produced at the distillery. The first is a light and clean Rum, distilled to a higher proof, while the second, distilled to a lower proof, base Rum is extremely aromatic with bold, wild, and exotic flavors to match. By marrying these two Rums, Ron Abuelo is able to create Rum that has both depth and drinkability.
The 12 year-old is an intriguing diversion in style. It is certainly a sibling of the first two Rums but the 12 offers a level of intensity of both flavors and aromatics akin to ultrapremium Bourbons with a silky texture to match. This is a serious brown Spirit and at about $33 a bottle in the US, a super value.
The Ron Abuelo portfolio comprises four aged Rums: Añejo, 7 year-old, 12 year-old, and Centuria their latest addition, a 30 year-old Rum that is and always will be their highest mark. Centuria was introduced in Panama in 2008 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the family estate. It is a bit pricey, as you would imagine, and precious few bottles reach the US. It’s a delectable statement of intent from Ron Abuelo.
The Ron Abuelo Añejo is their first tier Rum and a perfect introduction to the house style. It is complex and dry with notes of dried fruits, toasted coconut, brown sugar, sandalwood, and brown baking spices. It’s super to sip straight over ice and it is a smart choice for fresh Rum cocktails. The 7 year-old exhibits many of the same attributes found in the Añejo with greater depth and even more layers of fruit, spice, and wood. It is terrific in cocktails but I prefer to sip it straight. The only issue with this Rum is that it goes down a bit too easy. The 12 year-old is an intriguing diversion in style. It is certainly a sibling of the first two Rums but the 12 offers a level of intensity of both flavors and aromatics akin to ultra-premium Bourbons with a silky texture to match. This is a serious brown Spirit and at about $33 a bottle in the US, a super value.
Of course this line-up of Rum is likely to grow in the coming years. Don’t be surprised to see some creative additions. The Varela Hermanos team is presenting their Rums as premium brown Spirits aimed to please traditional Bourbon and Whisky drinkers. They don’t appear to be bound by traditional Rum marketing concerns – a clever and refreshing point of view in my opinion. They are building the brand based on a simple axiom, quality. Quality knows no boundaries or limits. Quality and Panama-grown self-assurance is a powerful mixture.
Look out world…