After centuries of fighting each other over seemingly petty things, such as differences in religion and skin color, it’s nice to see the human race caring more about one another. I guess this is a case of us, as a species, growing more mature as a whole. We live in a modern world, where more of us are able to live comfortable lives. This allows greater awareness of others and what is happening in other parts of the globe.
It is because of this awareness that Flor De Cana rum gained infamy in 2015 when this Munchies article came out. As a result, Bobby Heugel, owner of Anvil Bar and Refuge in Houston, decided to boycott and dumped over 20 bottles of Flor De Cana rum down the drain. Other bars followed his lead.
For the unfamiliar, Flor De Cana is a Nicaraguan rum brand based in a small town Chichigalpa. Most of its residents are employed by Flor De Cana and its sugar mills. The rum is arguably the most famous export of Nicaragua. Apparently, and sadly, many of its citizens are, or were, dying of CKD also known as chronic kidney disease.
CKD is a disease that results in a declining kidney function. Researchers have linked this disease to working conditions at the sugar mill. It was believed that the disease was a result of being exposed to chemicals like pesticides. But apparently, CKD is said to be the effect of the cane cutters not getting enough water, shade and rest. According to the aforementioned Vice article, the workers are paid per ton of sugarcane they cut. It was not revealed how long it takes for a worker to cut a ton of cane, but a single day of cutting cane is the equivalent of running half a marathon. Multiply that to 5, 6, or even 7 days a week and it will take a considerable toll on an individual’s health.
It was mentioned in the Eater article that these issues are most likely not isolated in Flor De Cana, because potentially several of the rum producing countries (or even Tequila and Mezcal distilleries) have poor working conditions. Yet none are as well documented and publicised as to what happened with Flor De Cana.
In 2018, Flor De Cana gained a Fairtrade Certification. The certification with Fair Trade USA, the leading certifier of Fair Trade products in North America. This covers areas like safe working conditions, protection of fundamental human rights and environmental best practices. It’s even proudly stated on their website.
Still, this wasn’t enough to satisfy some rum fans. Others still see the brand under a negative light. Some feel that Flor De Cana only worked for the certification because they needed to. If the news on the CKD hadn’t come out in 2015: nothing would have changed.
Aside from this, many rum fans still don’t like the brand because of its misleading, or fake age statements. This is not uncommon for a rum distilled in a Spanish speaking country from the Caribbean or South America. Brands like Ron Zacapa from Guatemala are notorious for their use of solera age-statements. This is when the oldest rum in the bottle is usually the age statement. Ron Zacapa and in turn, Diageo got in trouble for this practice. Zaya from Trinidad is known for sweetened “rum” and the huge “12” on the label. This is displayed to deceive the buyer into thinking it’s a 12-year-old rum. In a Bartender at Large podcast episode, the Flor De Cana brand rep admitted they used average age statements rather than using actual age statements. For example, their Flor De Cana 12 doesn’t have 12-year rum as the youngest component.
Since I don’t appreciate brands who use misleading age statements, and I’m not a huge fan of the light column still profile, I’m not willing to purchase Flor De Cana products. Therefore I’d like to thank Lance, The Lone Caner, for sending me samples of these Flor De Cana bottled by the SMWS.
R8.1 Sneaking A Tot Into Woodwork Class – review
Matured in a refill ex-bourbon cask, this was bottled at 18 years of age at a strength of 57.5%. This is still available to SMWS members for £78.75.
Color: Pale ale.
On the nose: Initial scents of coconuts, apples, pineapple and old wooden furniture. There’s the strong ethanol accompanied by some pleasant smells of toffee, peanut butter, varnish and pink peppercorn. Some follow up notes of bananas, vanilla and honey.
In the mouth: Strong initial taste of vanilla, coconut, coconut sugar syrup. Persistent but weak notes of varnish accompanied by toffee, honey, muscovado sugar syrup and bananas. Bitterness, oak and some notes of apples and sweetness at the end.
R8.2 The Hunt Master Before Lunch – review
Matured in a refill ex-bourbon cask, before being bottled at 18 years of age and 57.5% strength. Still available to members for £76.95.
Color: wheat beer.
On the nose: A lot of ethanol with very dark colored scents that remind me of dark chocolate, smokey Vietnamese espresso coffee, stout beer, charred wood, liquorice and varnish. Then it ends with hints of burnt orange peel oil, marzipan and concentrated cherry juice.
In the mouth: Not as rough as the nose. Mellow tartness, marzipan, orange marmalade, some sort of liquorice flavored cherry. Slight hints of smoke, chocolate with dried oranges and candied apples.
R8.4 Autumn Campfire in Nicaragua – review
Again matured in a refill ex-bourbon cask, bottled at 12 years of age and a strength of 57.5%. This has sold out but originally was priced at £68.50.
On the nose: Upon pouring in the glass, I immediately smell the bourbon. In that hot heavy bourbon, scents are almonds, toffee, marshmallows, toffee, cinnamon and vanilla. A bit later, I get some scents of peppers, roasted coconuts, honey and something floral.
In the mouth: Much more mellow than on the nose. Vanilla, almonds, toasted marshmallows, cinnamon, coconut sugar and honey. Hints of bitter wood flavors appear at the end.
R8.1’s scents are more complex, but also very fleeting: quick and alternating. The strength of the abv isn’t too obvious initially, it feels like looking into a hole and getting hit by a delayed punch. The taste lasts longer but remains less complex. It’s not as fruity as the nose, but on the whole, it’s ok. Overall, I have mixed feelings on the bitterness at the end, as it’s a bit unpleasant, but it adds a note of character.
R8.2 is much more in your face than R8.1, but ultimately less complex. The flavors are bolder yet it all falls short. Whereas R8.4 is very hot on the nose but mellow in the mouth. This is a straight forward sipping rum. Even so, this lacks depth and complexity to be enjoyed properly.
As you can appreciate, these rums have left me uninspired. While these are inoffensive and of sipping quality, I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone looking to move into rum. Simply because this will likely make a whisky drinker think that rum isn’t that different from whisky. In a blind tasting, I wouldn’t be able to guess that any of these were actually rums. I would most likely mistake both R8.1 and R8.4, as whisky. And I’d pick R8.2 as a Cognac. I guess this is an issue with light-bodied rum distilled rum modern column stills. The cask influence just takes over. I don’t think this is the fault of SMWS. There’s really only so much a cask/s can do to “fix” a lacklustre distillate. But on the other hand, I didn’t pay for this so I can look on the bright side more.
Photographs kindly provided by the SMWS. Please note any SMWS links are for your convenience only, as we don’t subscribe to their commission program.