El Dorado Rum, or rather one time back the Journey to El Dorado have captured imaginations of European adventurers and sailors from the middle-ages about a land that was so rich in gold, it had little value to the people that lived in it. Today instead, El Dorado rum has captured the hearts and minds of growing enthusiast spirit drinkers for their rich and quality rum. El Dorado rum is made in the South American country of Guyana, previously a British colony which then got their independence in 1966. Because parts of the land is below sea level and tropical climate, the soil soaks the rain makes it just right for cultivating sugar cane. In fact Demerara sugar cane as it’s called can turn a harvest in 6 months, and that’s 4 months shorter than the normal sugarcane harvest.Before the British, the Dutch first cultivated the wet swampy lands and built canals along the sugar cane plantation as a means of transportation. The same sugar cane plantation along the canal is use to make El Dorado rum today. Before harvest, the land is burnt to kill dangerous animals including snakes and spiders; thereafter the sugar cane is transported via boats into factories for sugar extraction. The by product from the sugar extraction or rather sugar molasses is then mixed with yeast for fermentation to create alcohol. From here on the distillation process takes over to create high quality spirits followed by wood maturation to create rum.
I will say more on the history as it is necessary to understand how El Dorado makes their rum with their unique distillation process. The distillery uses four different types of stills to impart specific qualities for the rum blending process. The four stills have their own names too: the ‘ICBU’ (Utvilugt) which is a metal column still, the ‘EHP’ (Enmore) which is a wooden column still, ‘PM’ (Port Mourant) which is a wooden double pot still and the ‘VSG’ which is a single wooden pot still. Did I say stills made of wood? Yes I did. Why would a distillery use wooden stills, would it not burn out from the boiling or suffer from wear and tear. In those days and this goes back as far as at the late 18th century, wood was easier to acquire than metal and in fact the quality of the Green Heart wood which grows in Guyana is so tough, they make good stills alternative to metal. However, although the wood is not as porous to oak for example, some of the liquid does get absorbed into the wood during the distillation process but then gets released after and re-used in the next distillation. The wooden stills require replacement every 3 years or so and are done section by section over a longer period. A curious note is the top of the wooden pot stills are flooded with water during distillation to prevent the wood from warping.
During the tasting we had the opportunity to try single barrel rums that are made from ICBU, EHP and PM stills. All three are aged in previously Jack Daniel barrels and used only once.
The El Dorado Single Barrel ‘ICBU’ Uitvlugt rum
This was made with the single pot metal column still creating a light spirit. The nose is subtly honey with caramel and lightly citrus. The palate has mild vanilla and honey sweetness; but quite dry and woody. The finish is smooth and quick. The single barrel rum is bottled at 40% ABV and contains rum from the age of 12 to 14 years priced at about £71.
The El Dorado Single Barrel ‘EHP’ Enmore rum
This was made from single wooden column stills and the result is a slightly heavier spirit compared to the ‘ICBU’. More medium bodied rum, the aroma has vanilla. The palate is butter-scotch, mildly drier compared to the ICBU with light oily texture. The finish is smooth and tingly to the tongue. The single barrel rum is bottled at 40% ABV and contains rums from the age of 12 to 14 years priced at about £70.
The El Dorado Single Barrel ‘PM’ Port Mourant rum
This was made from double wooden pot stills and you now start to get more of the whisky characteristics coming out. The nose is much punchier, vanilla sweet, dark honey, rich fruit cake and with a hint of citrus. The palate is spicy with fruitiness including banana, pineapples, citrus and caramel. It is more full-bodied compared to the other EHP and ICBU. Although a quick finish, the lingering taste is heavier and oilier. This single barrel rum is bottled at 40% ABV, and contains rum from the age of 12 to 14 years priced at about £75
We step out of the single barrel and try the selection of aged rums blended from the various stills. All these rums are matured in previously Jack Daniel whisky barrels with the staves remade into rum casks. Once completely used, the casks are sold to other distilleries notably for Scotch whisky maturation.
The El Dorado 8 year old rum
We skip the 5yo and go right into the 8yo. The rum in here is a blend from mostly column still and a little bit from pot still. It is said the 8yo, the little brother of the 15yo. You get the lightness of the sugar and honey in the aroma. The palate has caramel, toffee, honey and maple syrup. The finish is quick with a lingering gentle bitterness in the tongue. The 8yo is bottled at 40% and sold at about £27.
whiskytale: Its mid-19th century and you are the captain of one of the finest exploration ship your country has to offer. Your mission is to explore uncharted waters of the new world and with you are fifty of the finest crewmen you’ve mostly handpicked yourself. On every mission lasting up to two years, you carry on board a variety of rum vintages that will undoubtedly be drink dry before your mission ends.
Every day, your crew is served half a pint of rum mixed with water to sterilise before drinking. But these aren’t the rum in your stockpile. Those are for special occasions. You are a good captain and your crew knows it, but six months at sea, and you’ve seen no land and crew morale is low. In fact whisper of mutiny on board catches your ear. You need something to cheer up the crew. One night you call the cabin boy and ask him to run a secret errand. You order him to swap the drinking barrel rum with the 8yo rum from your stockpile. Two days later, you notice your crew are more burly and merry, and in a week, dancing away at nights. However you’re now having to serve them a pint of rum instead as they keep begging for more. The 8yo El Dorado is just without qualm. All it wants to do is give you a kick in the right place to ease your worries so you can get on. And as captain, there is no more risk of mutiny.
The El Dorado 12 year old rum
The other way round to the 8yo, the 12yo blend is a blend from mostly pot still with a little bit from column still. The nose is richer than the 8yo, with more honey and christmas pudding. The palate has a hint of woodiness, honey, fruit cakes and has to be said feels heavier on the tongue. The finish is soft and quick with almost no lingering bitterness. The 12yo is bottled at 40% and sold at about £34.
whiskytale: One sunny day your crew on the crow’s nest points and shout “Ship on tail!!” You head behind deck, stretch open your monoscope and see a flagless vessel which can only mean one thing. “Pirates!!” you scream at your crew. The quartermaster and master gunner echo your orders and prepare the crew for battle. It was a touch and go victory as you cripple the enemy ship and manage to escape with minimal loss. It’s a celebration. You order the cabin boy to bring out the Eldorado 12yo from your stockpile below deck which you claim is your best rum fit for a fine crew. Everyone cheers and then politely line up in rank order holding goblets. You smile at each crew as you pour the rum. You say a few words and everyone cheers and drink. The 12yo El Dorado is definite celebratory rum and much more. As captain you feel it is occasionally important to remind your crew the reasons you’re all here on this ship. You’ve all left your loved ones to brave the great seas and chart new lands with no guarantee of success or reward. It is important to grab and celebrate even the smallest of victories so that the greater mission can continue and perhaps one day history may remember. If you ever lived to see the new world and return to tell the tale, you will remember the days you had the 12yo El Dorado rum with your crew.
The El Dorado 15 year old rum
The 15yo special reserve is said to be more whisky like compared to its younger siblings. All three stills are used in the distillation of this rum. The aroma is sharper and sweeter with vanilla, citrus, dark honey and fruitcake. The palate has maple syrup, chocolate, toffee, vanilla and feels nicely oiled in your tongue. The finish has a lot more depth and richness than the 12yo, with a gentle lingering sweetness. Compared to the 12yo, this is almost a big step up in flavour. The 15yo is bottled at 43% and sold at about £43.
whiskytale: In the recent battle with pirates, you notice a swabbie acting heroically and have gotten your curiosity. Over the following months, you keep an eye on him. You even asked your quartermaster to find out a little more from the other crew about the deck cleaner. Apparently he’s a quiet fellow, keeps out of trouble, and just gets on with the job. Thinking the recent pirate ship has made you edgy; you feel it’s important to train a second gunner just in case. One night, you personally summon the swabbie to your quarters. You ask how he’s getting on and where he comes from. You like the fellow, and what you like even more is he gets how the chain of command works and that’s important for a ship at sea. You go to your chest, open and bring out a bottle of El Dorado 15yo rum with two goblets. You pour a good size dram for the both of you and say, “Do you know what you’re drinking?” Before he can speak, you continue, “This is the El Dorado 15yo, the best rum money can buy. Have a drink.” He takes a sniff and quickly sip. His expression says it all. You say, “It’s sweet and quite smooth. I don’t normally share this rum with anyone”. For you, this rum is to be shared with the people you appreciate and trust most. You put the swabbie up for the promotion as your second gunner. Just before you ask him to report to the master gunner, you say “Do not betray the sweetness of the rum you’ve just drank. There will be no going back”.
The El Dorado 21 year old rum
The finale is the 21yo which is blended from purely the VSG and EHP stills. Stepping away from the 15yo, the 21yo aroma is sharper and punchier with more fruitcake and honey coming out. The palate is rich but comparably tamer to the 15yo. You get an oilier texture in the taste with more toffee and less vanilla. The rum has truly grown up because the palate is balanced with no one flavour overwhelming the other. The alcohol influence feels lighter in the palate too but the finish still gives a gentle spiciness. Once again compared to the 15yo the finish is more grounded. It is said that the 21yo rum is an equivalent of a 42yo Scotch whisky at a fraction of the price. The 21yo is bottled at 43% and sold at about £76.
whiskytale: It has been 15 months since you left home. You’ve found the new world, explore the terrain and met the natives. The natives like you and both sides exchange many gifts. And now you are planning your trip home. On the last night before departure, your quartermaster comes into your quarters looking nervous. You don’t like the look on his face. He finally confesses being in love with chieftain’s daughter but sadly the chieftain disapproves. This is your worst nightmare. You could lose both your quartermaster and the trust you worked so hard with the natives over the past few months. Need to fix this, you pick an old sack, put your most precious rum, the El Dorado 21yo and head into the village. You ask for an audience with the chief and he accepts at his home. You show your precious El Dorado 21yo and ask for two cups. You pour and you both drink. The beautifully grounded El Dorado 21yo is the bridge between two different cultures. You spent a few hours talking and drinking. The chieftain is a honourable man and you both come to an arrangement. Outside, you see both the quartermaster and the chieftain’s daughter holding hands looking anxious. You say both of you can be together but with conditions; you both must marry and your quartermaster must remain here. He reluctantly agrees. Just before you sail for home, you give the El Dorado 21yo rum to your new ambassador. “Use it to help break the ice and become the bridge between yourself and the natives”, you say.