Learning from my torturously long Foursquare vertical review, I will attempt to do a series of shorter reviews dedicated to topics that I think don’t get discussed much in Malt. The 1st series will be on Demerara rum.

What inspired this series are a mix of my growing Demerara rum collection and The Lone Caner’s posting of Key Rums of the World. Who is The Lone Caner? To make it short, he is a well-known and long-time rum blogger/reviewer. He is also someone I consider a kindred spirit, friend and mentor. To find out more, visit his amazing blog.

What is El Dorado rum? El Dorado is an export market rum brand under the only operating distillery left in Guyana, Diamond Distillery. This distillery is owned by Demerara Distiller’s Limited (DDL). So, yes, all Demerara rum like Hamilton’s Demerara rum and Lemonhart are sourced from DDL.

The early 90s seemed to be a dark time for rum. The stigma of rum being a very sweet spirit that was only good for mixing. The Tiki renaissance had not started yet, as Jeff “Beachbum” Berry had not yet released his books. According to the long-time rum geeks I regularly converse with, El Dorado 15 was the first El Dorado to be released back in 1992. El Dorado 21 came out in 2002. El Dorado 15, from what I gather, is considered to be the catalyst for the premium rum category we are now seeing more of. DDL was called crazy for coming out with El Dorado back then. Selling a premium sipping rum, in a market that does not sip rum?

DDL had the last laugh. El Dorado rum eventually won awards and became highly regarded in the rum scene. Rum drinkers and bartenders expressed their love for the El Dorado line. It was a rum brand that a whisky lover could turn to. These were actual 15 and 21-year-old rums, unlike some brands that use fake age statements, like average age statements or “solera age” statements.

Then people started finding out a lot of rum, including El Dorado, are sweetened. That companies weren’t being open about it. This prompted some bloggers to send samples of rum to be tested in labs. The news spread like wildfire in online forums.The reactions were mixed. It didn’t matter to some rum fans. Some moved away due to the dishonesty. Some returned to it after a while. But it’s still highly recommended to rum newbies until today. Fatrumpirate’s blog has a hydrometer test page if you want to see which rum are sweetened.

Are the rums in the El Dorado range just older variations of each other? Luckily, that’s not the case. They’re a blend of different rums, from different stills, which make up the different “marks” of DDL. The marks come from the different designs of stills in the distillery. A lot of stills were moved to the Diamond from closed down distilleries. Aside from making good rum, the rum geeks flock to Demerara rum due the different types of wooden stills. If rum and whiskey can do single cask bottlings, DDL can bottle single still Demerara rum. I plan to talk about more on these wooden stills in the succeeding reviews. Some marks are named after both closed distilleries and existing stills. It gets very confusing. I think they’re quite unique with that aspect. I don’t know of any other distillery in the world that has wooden stills.

The wood is called Greenheart and only grows in Guyana. Guyana distilleries used it as an alternative to copper. The wood is said to be able to strip the distillate of sulfites, which is one of the major uses of copper in stills. The wood is said to last 8 years. So staves are replaced from time to time to maintain the stills.

The 15-year-old is £53.45 from the Whisky Exchange, or £52.95 from Master of Malt, or £49.60 from Amazon. Expect to pay £94.25 for the 21-year-old expression via the Whisky Exchange, or £94.06 from Master of Malt, or the same price via Amazon.

El Dorado 15 year – review

Color: e150

On the nose: This immediately reminds me of an afternoon abroad where I like to have coffee or tea with some cake or other forms of dessert. Smelling this gave off welcoming scents of mocha, dark cacao nibs, raisins, banana syrup, chocolate cake, cinnamon, hints of dandelion root tea and hints of earl grey tea.

In the mouth: Now, this makes me think of dessert after dinner. Unmistakable flavors of cinnamon syrup, mocha and chocolate. Followed by notes of candied orange peel, muscovado sugar and figs.

Score: 6/10

El Dorado 21 – review

Color: e150

On the nose: This makes me think of Chinese medicine poured ever chocolate cake. There are these sweet, bitter, wood furniture and root notes. Followed by raisins, wooden furniture, a bit of smoke, chocolate, mocha and banana syrup.

In the mouth: Like the nose, there are these sweet and bitter notes. Raisins, chocolate, hints of sulfur, mocha, banana syrup, hints of smoke, maple syrup and cinnamon.

Score: 6/10

Conclusions

After not drinking from my bottle of El Dorado 15 for a few years, I’m reminded why this is a rum I fell for. I stayed away after finding out that it was sweetened. It’s not very complex, but also not subtle. It’s expressive enough to show off what solid aromas and flavors it has. I understand now that the mouthfeel is most likely from the 31g/L of sugar in the rum. Despite that large amount of sugar within, it doesn’t taste as overly sweetened, as some Plantation, or the Don Papa 7. I used to think this had some ex-sherry cask matured rum in it due to the chocolate and raisin notes. But after learning more about what DDL’s different stills can do, and it being sweetened, I stopped wondering.

I remember the El Dorado 21 being funkier. The wooden furniture note seems weaker now. But I guess that’s because I’m more used to funkier stuff. What you smell is also what you get in the mouth. Oddly, despite having less added sugar measured at 22g/l, this one tastes sweeter than the 15.

The scores may be the same but I like the El Dorado 15 better now. Because of the funk, I used to like the 21 over the 15. Now it’s reversed. These are rums I’d like to try unsweetened. Are they really that bad without the added sugar? It is too bad the marks that make up this blend are kept secret. It’s like having bourbon mashbills being kept secret. If the information was out there, it would be easier for one to find out which DDL mark one would like. But alas, all the info out there regarding the make up of these blends is just speculation.

There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Images kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesSpirits
John
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Avatar
    bifter says:

    I remember, oddly, finding El Dorado 15 for the bargain price of £35 in Aldi some years ago, however I don’t know if I would part with ~£55 for it. I like rum, a great alternative to whisky and I have a sweet tooth. However it is a bit of a minefield unfortunately, given the jurisdictional spread of production and the lack of strict regulation. I’ve mainly stuck to dark rums so far so I’ll definitely take an interest in this series, but I’d like to explore golden rums a bit more, will these feature at some point?

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Bifter,

      Rum has a lot of regulations. I am not sure of GI Guyana follows, but Barbados and Jamaican rum follow rules that can be likened to whisky. While a lot of Latin America countries like to sweeten and use fake age statements, Barbadian and Jamaican rum don’t allow rum aged and bottled in their respective countries to be sweetened. They follow whisky age statement rules also. Demerara rum follows whisky age statements also some rum like the El Dorado line are sweetened.

      I stopped identifying rum by the color years ago as it doesn’t cover any info regarding the provenance. I started identifying based on where they are from as each island has it’s own style of production. The color classification for rum was started by, Bacardi, I think. It’s just lazy marketing and journalism. Theoretically, a Bacardi white can just have less e150 and be called gold rum then a different bacardi white can have more e150 and be called dark rum. So I’m not sure I can answer your gold rum question.

      The following Demerara rum reviews are El Dorado limited ed single still releases. They are, to my joy, not sweetened.

      1. Avatar
        bifter says:

        Thanks John, I want to learn more so I can make some informed choices so any knowledge welcome. I had in my head for some reason that the darker styles were associated with areas the British had colonised where molasses is used and gold rums were from areas with French association where they use cane sugar? However I did wonder about colouring as any spirit I’ve ever seen coming off a still is pretty much clear and dark rum is certainly darker hued than any other spirit (some whiskies come close).

        I have a bottle of Appleton 12 in the cupboard just now and, yes, it tastes more savoury than the likes of El Dorado. I also bought a bottle of Aldi’s Crossbones dark rum (£15) which is described as a blend of Jamaican rums from column and pot stills. It’s not too far off the Appleton in general character but it is sweeter. I wonder if it’s been exported, then blended and sweetened.

        1. John
          John says:

          Hm… because I’m based in Asia and rum isn’t as big here as it is in the UK (I’m assuming you’re from the UK), I never had those thoughts.

          Joining FB groups like Ministry of Rum is a good way to be more informed. After learning how to classify rum by its provenance, I honestly stopped minding the color statements on rum labels. I think I subconsciously drilled into my head that they are useless.

          A lot of white Jamaican and Agricole rhum are pretty damn good though. So I’d recommend you give rum like unaged Agricole and Clairin a chance.

          Apppleton 12 is a darn good rum. I should review that in the future.

          I don’t know is Aldi rum are sweetened but there are a lot of rum brokers in the EU. They source rum from the islands to age and blend them in the EU. Jamaican rum can be sweetened outside of Jamaica. For now at least.

  2. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Good to see a review of an old favourite (past tense) in the mix. Curious to see how it would fare. I think I started my rum journey a long time ago with a bottle of Captain Morgan which I thought was rum. It was before the whole tiki thing and rum was stuff for pirates and flavourful British puddings. I take a break, jump forward a couple of decades, and decide to get some Malternative spirit. I have a connection with Spain and so it started with Matusalem, Zacapa, Diplomatico, El Dorado etc.. My first bit of funk was Appleton 12. I already had a thought it was too sweet but I got a bottle of Milonario and I thought my teeth would dissolve it was so sweet. That was the final straw and my rum journey completely changed after that when I sourced from independent bottlers.

    I’ve tried the El Dorado 12, 15 and 21. They taste different and you can tell where they come from (DD) but the whole thing is so damned sweet and low in strength. The hydrometer test suggests they are below 40%. This is not what rum should be in my opinion. It’s like drinking liqueur. Spain consumes a lot of rum like El Dorado but it’s never drunk neat. It’s tiki time and put in cocktails and/or drowned in ice. Hell, I don’t want to knock El Dorado. It’s clearly very popular and does what it does very well. I enjoy it once in a while but these days it would sit on my shelf a long time before it was finished. For Malt Heads looking for full on Malternatives there’s better. For Rum Rascals without a whisky background it’s good but look further. Cheers John. I think we’re on the same wavelength. WT

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi WT,

      Like you, I used to love Diplo and Zacapa. Then I started to not like sweet stuff. Thank the gods for funky Jamaican rum and Agricoles.

      Yes, the over(?) sweetening of rum can be a turn off. El Dorado has gotten its share of criticism for that. Good thing they have started to come out with unsweetened limited ed single still releases which are pretty good.

      Cheers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *