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Rum Review: Duncan Taylor DARSA 2007

Duncan Taylor DARSA 2007 Rum Review


One of the first rums that drew me into the cane spirits camp was Zacapa. I didn’t drink too many straight spirits back then, so the sweet and smooth operator made me sit up in my chair and take notice. When I found out the same distillery made Botran, I picked those up, too. Pretty soon I had a good sized collection of sweet rums from the lower Americas, and I thought I was really starting to understand the rum category (I wasn’t).

As time went on, however, my palate grew tired of sweet rums, and as I learned more about the rum production process, I began to tease out which flavors and textures came from the rum production and aging processes, and which flavors came from well, other things.

Both Zacapa and Botran are produced by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala at the distillery known as DARSA, which is an acronym for Destiladora de Alcoholes y Rones, SA. Zacapa is clearly the more visible of the two brands, and it’s with good reason. Diageo began working with Zacapa in 2008, and took a controlling stake in June of 2011. Owning half the brand (and perpetual distribution rights outside the home market) cost the drinks giant £148 million, but it appears to be paying off. Case volumes rose 122% over the five years between 2010 and 2015, so with 2010 numbers reported at ~123k cases, Zacapa is probably selling close to 300k cases/year now. I guess that’s what a £6 million marketing budget can do for a brand.

Yet despite the brand’s success, it’s not without controversy—indeed to say Zacapa is a lightning rod for criticism among hardcore rum aficionados would be a massive understatement. First is the added sugar, which although legal at around 44 grams per liter, is cause for concern among many. Second is the “23” portion of the marque, which is often derided as being misleading (the switch from “23 años” to simply “23” coincided with Diageo’s purchase, leading many to assume the former was a legally indefensible statement). In any case, Diageo is laughing all the way to the bank.

Given my own rummy predilections, I hadn’t been excited by a Guatemalan rum in years. But that changed this past Christmas when I noticed the Duncan Taylor Company had bottled a cask strength rum from DARSA. I quickly snapped up a 70cl bottle from Master of Malt (~$49 US) and waited with ample curiosity as it transited the Atlantic. What would it taste like? Would it be sweet? Could it be any good?

The rum arrived in typical Duncan Taylor packaging, sporting a label that told us this was an 8-year-old rum two-column-distilled at DARSA in 2007, matured in oak, and bottled at 52.3% ABV. Duncan Taylor added no color or other additives, nor did they chill filter the liquid—definitely a departure from Guatemalan production norms.

Looking at Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala’s Web site, we can see they offer a solera-aged product comprised of rums “up to” eight years old under the Botran label. That rum is made from sugar cane syrup and aged in Bourbon and Sherry casks, which led me to wonder if this was a true eight-year-old rum or a solera. Alas, with nothing more to go on, we have to trust the good folks at Duncan Taylor and assume it’s a real age statement.

Once in the glass, we find a golden colored liquid with a touch of bronze. A swirl produces a thin ring and a ready set of quick legs. The nose is uninteresting but inoffensive, exhibiting lemon zest, black pepper, white cake, vanilla, and hint of oak.

Yes, yes, but how does it taste?

The rum bursts onto the palate with a massive basket of fruit, dominated by grape, mango, apple and orange. After the fruit is a dose of oak, black pepper, and a bitter tannic note. Beyond the bitterness is a touch of honey, cinnamon, leather, anise, and a finally a touch of tobacco. Woven throughout is the notion of white cake. The long finish lights up the cheeks with fruit flavors, while the mid and upper palate are coated with the tannic bitterness.

This rum was surprising in many ways. For example, with such a blasé nose, I never expected all the different fruity esters, nor did I envision a rum of this type would be so quaffable at 52.3%. Although not a life-altering rum, it’s really solid for an eight-year-old, and miles apart from anything in the Botran or Zacapa line.

Given that cask strength whiskey lovers are now catching on to rum’s value, might Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala consider releasing a connoisseur range of cask strength rums on their own? I know I’d buy a few bottles.

Score: 8.5

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