Review #2: Velier Royal Navy Very Old Rum

Review 2. Woohoo! I decided to review the other end of the spectrum of rum for my second review. This way I establish a scope in which I’ll be reviewing. From sweeter more “broad public” rums to niche and special flavour bombs like today’s rum.

So today we have the ‘Velier Royal Navy Very Old Rum’. As the very catchy name says, this is a royal navy rum. It’s a blend created by rum demi-god Luca Gargano as an attempt (and a very tasty one at that) to recreate the rum that was given to sailors of the British Royal Navy from as early as 1655 until the rum ration ended on july 31st  1970 (1 minute of silence please).

The original navy blend consisted mainly of (you guessed it) rums made in British colonies. BUT it wasn’t limited to only these colonies. Matt Pietrek from Cocktailwonk also shows that rum from Martinique and Cuba was at one time blended into the rum sailors got as a daily ration. There wasn’t really one singular recipe, it was more like a certain flavour profile.

This is a blend of 3 of the most significant rum producing former colonies that were blended into the original navy rum at one time or another.

The first is Trinidad & Tobago, well presented by Caroni with a tropical aging of over 20 years. This is a fiery, extremely flavourful rum with notes of tar, rubber and petrol from the legendary closed distillery which bares the same name.

The second part is rum from Guyana that’s been aged in Europe for over 15 years. Rum mostly known for its sweeter taste palette and notes such as raisins, brown sugar and plums.

And the third part of this holy trinity is Jamaican rum aged in the tropics for over 12 years. This is rum is mostly known for its high ester flavour with notes of overripe fruits, pineapple, black tea,…

This is all blended together to form a rum with (as a rum geek I absolutely love this part) a weighted average age of 17.42 years and a very specific ABV of 57.14% which, to be clear, isn’t navy strength but proof strength (for more explanation I’ll refer to cocktailwonk again).

The presentation of this rum is as we’re used to with Velier releases: a stately bottle, the classic informative cardboard box and a simple yet very clear label with everything mentioned one would want to know.

At the time of writing this rum is hard to find, it’s still available at some (online) stores, but mostly it can be found on online auctions. Expect to pay somewhere around €150 and up.


Now onto how it tastes, because all this talking only matters if the rum tastes good.

Colour:

Lovely orange bronze-ish colour, very natural colour with a golden hue.

Nose:

The first thing I get from smelling this rum is the warmer, heavier Caroni notes: tar, rubber, and oil. With just the tiniest bit of Jamaican esters/fruitiness. Some lovely pineapple, a smidge of coconut and overripe banana. But these fade quite quickly, to a bit of the Guyanese rum: some raisins and brown sugar mainly. Which plays nice with the heavier Caroni notes. Underneath all this some woody smells and the accompanying tannic bitterness also pop up.

Honestly, I could just sit for hours sniffing this beauty. It keeps on evolving and surprising me. After some time the Jamaican part even returns for a second act.

Taste:

Oh boy, that’ll kick you in the teeth. As the rum goes into my mouth I feel a little spiciness on my lips. The first sip will warm you up like a roaring fire (somewhat fuelled by petrol and maybe a bike tyre) after you’ve come home from a winter day of throwing snowballs and catching some snow in the back of your neck. You know what I mean? Like REALLY warm you up.

That first sip can and probably will give you a punch in the face. But to be honest… I kind of like that (I found out I’m a bit of a rum masochist). The Caroni notes are very powerful and you can barely taste the otherwise very prominent Jamaican funkiness. There is however some subtle substance given by the Guyana part.

I was a bit disappointed about the lack of funk in the rum. I mean, it’s there but has to be looked for, hard. When I nip the tiniest amount, and swirl it around in my mouth I do get the familiar Jamaican funkiness of pineapple, overripe bananas and just the tiniest bit of varnish (as always in Jamaican rum: I mean varnish in the best possible way)

Due to this last sip and reading some other reviews I decided to add some water in the glass to hopefully open the rum up a bit more.

This made a huge difference. The Caroni takes a step back and Jamaica moves forward. I still get the warmer darker notes of the Caroni, but they are evenly matched with the high ester, fruity notes of Jamaica. Eventually I also get just a miniscule (but noticeable) amount of red fruit.

Due to lightening, this rum the woody flavour also pops up more.

Still, the Guyanese sweetness in the form of raisins and brown sugar with a bit of dark chocolate (thanks to the water) remains as a nice undertone.

Finish:

With all that happening in the mouth, I’d almost forget what happens after I swallow it. I would have to say the finish is medium-long. It is a bit shorter than I would expect it to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite long. But given the rums in this blend I expected the finish to be an hourlong experience. Although it isn’t, the flavours remaining are still good enough to make you want to keep drinking.


So to conclude. If the royal navy would still give out their rum rations and the ration would be this… well, I would enroll immediately. But seriously, this is a great rum. It’s a bit much when drunk neat, but add some water and it’s an amazingly high flavoured yet nicely balanced rum. Mr Gargano, you did one hell of a job on this one.  Can’t wait to try the successor to this one: the “Tiger Shark” (some good work was already done on the catchy name). because of the initial imbalance of the rums I must only give it 8.5/10

Solera method

History & method

The solera method or systema solera originates from Spain and more specifically the Xérès (Jerez) region and is used for the aging of its well-known fortified wine: Sherry.  

This is an aging system that blends between ages to say it extremely simplified. In the Solera method barrels are stacked on top of each other in rows, called criaderas. The barrels with the oldest sherry are on the bottom and are called the solera level (solera loosely meaning floor or ground). The barrels with the second-oldest sherry are on top of these and on top of those barrels are yet another row of slightly younger sherry, there can be up to 14-20 layers of criaderas or layers depending on the type of sherry. For the example provided by a beautiful tattoo of a good friend of mine (who adores sherry) I’ll be using 3 rows, so the solera level and 2 criaderas

Afbeelding met tatoeage, persoon, binnen, man

Automatisch gegenereerde beschrijving

Every time sherry is taken from the bottom row for bottling, these barrels are filled up with sherry from the row above, and so on. The barrels are never fully emptied therefore you get a perpetual and constant flavor profile and quality. The younger sherry will blend with the older sherry and so the whole of these 2 will be a slightly younger sherry.

The amount of liquid taken from the barrels can vary, so the ratio of young to old sherry can be different every time

This also means that theoretically there can be some part of the liquid from the beginning of the aging process left in the current blend.

On the Solera level you then have a sherry that has an age range or a calculated average age. This is possible through very closely monitoring how much sherry is moved from what row at what age, all of this is very complicated so I won’t to this kind of math myself (later I’ll try my hand at a simpler equation though).

The sherry in the solera level will then be bottled and is ready for drinking.

Specific age statement in sherry are quite rare as opposed to whisky, rum or other aged spirits. And here starts the controversy with rum that’s been aged using the Solera method.

The problem

The next part is mostly personal opinion supported by facts.

The problem in the rum world has to do with the addition of age statements. I -like many others- will focus on the punching bag of rum geeks: Zacapa 23. I’m not going to discuss the quality, adulteration or in this rum or those like it, since this is not the article to do so. What I will discuss is the 23 on that label and their aging system.

So… whenever you look at a bottle of Zacapa, a 23 will be prominently displayed on the label. Officially Zacapa says this is not a specific age statement, since this is the age of the oldest rum in the ‘solera’ (which in Zacapa’s case isn’t even a real solera) blend of 6 to 23 year old. This is like saying a 30 year old smoker is 60 since his lungs are those of a 60 year old, but he’s not… he’s 30… okay. Not the best comparison, I know, but it’s just to make my point clear.

In the world of spirits, it’s expected that when a number is placed center stage on a label it’s the minimum age. This is thanks to the strict regulations surrounding whisky. With solera aging, following this rule would do no justice to the rum since it’s a completely different version of aging than static aging and blending. In my opinion there remain 2 honest options then, you mention an average age/ an age range, and clearly mentioned it (not on the back label). Or you don’t mention any age at all, just like Santa Teresa does with it’s 1796 (you must be really dense to believe 1796 has anything to do with the rum’s age).

Back to Zacapa. Next to their highly confusing bordering-to-lying age statement they also don’t really use the Solera method. Even though it does says so on the bottle.

Afbeelding met binnen, koken, muur

Automatisch gegenereerde beschrijving

As you can see in this chart, from Zacapa themselves this isn’t even remotely the same as the traditional solera method. And it’s just extremely confusing.

I don’t know if it’s just my tiny 22 year old brain, but damn… there are a lot of arrows and barrels to keep track of. I honestly believe this is a system Zacapa has worked on long and hard to develop to get a consistent rum. BUT IT ISN’T SOLERA! So don’t label it as such.

Conclusion

Okay, I kind of got on a rant there. But to conclude:

Systema solera is a beautiful, easy and effective way of aging your liquid with an admirable consistency. In sherry, this creates amazing tipples and it can do the same in other spirits, such as rum. What we do have to take into consideration is the age statements that are put on bottles. If they show something that can obviously be mistaken as an age, we’ve got a problem of misleading the consumer towards misinformation and they’ll buy a product that’s actually worth less than what they’re lead to believe.

If however you use this method and honestly market your product to the consumer, I salute you. Because solera rums can and are lovely drinks indeed. Rums such as the aforementioned Santa Teresa 1796 are great rums in their own right and I truly enjoy drinking them now and then. Here the saying “drink what you like, but know what you’re drinking” pops into mind. If producers are honest about their product, and the quality of their rums are still what consumers want, sales won’t drop. The only thing producers do is increase transparency. This will be highly appreciated by casual drinkers and rum geeks alike.

-Robin Pollet, just a guy who likes rum

If you think/know I’m completely wrong (factual, or in my opinions), or have anything to add. Please feel free to contact me with constructive feedback at the.rum.robin@gmail.com

I love to be proven wrong 😊

Rum Review #1: Santa Teresa 1796 (my very first rum)

Falling in love with rum

The first time I ever drank rum with the purpose of actually sitting down; nosing, and tasting said rum was back in 2017. This was my first introduction to the wonderful world of rum.

This rum was the Santa Teresa 1796, yes another Santa Teresa review. The very pretty bottle with the wax seal and the lovely label really caught my eye. (classic first timer, choosing a rum because the bottle looks good).

Tasting it that first time was quite an experience since I’ve only had some very drunk nights on Bacardi and a taste or 2 of whisky (which at the time was way too harsh for me). the smell was so soft and alluring, it made me really want to just keep smelling that glass. Then I put my lips to that glass and took my first sip…

Eye opening! It was like the mist cleared on the road and I could finally see where I was going (and what a road trip it has been so far!). There was a liquor that was actually palatable and easy drinking. It had a nice sweetness to it and enough complexity to intrigue this guy into drinking numerous amounts of rum afterwards.

That was the first time, and like most first times that are amazing in the moment. Looking back, it’s just okay. So let’s see how it holds up now.


This rum is Produced at the Santa Teresa Hacienda in Venezuela and is released at 40% ABV. the 1796 refers to the year the hacienda opened. This rum was first produced in 1996 as a 200 year celebration.

Santa Teresa is currently working together with bacardi. they do all distribution for the rum, which is why it’s a way more common sighting nowadays. I find this a very interesting cooperation since Bacardi is seemingly trying to move into the “premium-ish rum” themselves with their recent rebranding of the ‘ocho’ and the addition of mainly the ‘Diez’.

Santa Teresa claims “Santa Teresa 1796 does not contain any additive that alters or enhances its flavor”. A hydrometer test by the fat rum pirate shows that the rum does have some added sugar, around 12 g/L. which is quite a bit less than some of its competitors in say… Guatemala or even their homecountry of Venezuela. It’s a molasses-based rum that’s been aged in the solera method. for those who don’t know this production method yet, read this page on solera aging.

Colour: brown at its core with orange hues, like so many other rums

Nose: smelling this reveals a light and sweet rum as expected. I start of smelling a very slight glue hint, then a subtle bit of apple and then of course the classic caramel and chocolate as well. after putting a lid on the glass for a while and returning to it I detect some allspice as well, but the scent in general does tend to fade very quickly.

taste: pleasant and full. There’s no harsh alcohol taste which is to be expected for a sweet 40% ABV rum. Immediately I taste some dark chocolate and the caramel from the nose makes it return. some cinnamon and some other light spices also pop up

Finish: the finish is rather short. The rum does leave some spiciness on the tongue and lips, but this disappears after a short while. The dark chocolate from the mouth transforms to milk chocolate. other than that there isn’t a lot of complexity going on.


conclusion:

After re-trying the Santa Teresa 1796 I must say it was almost exactly as I expected it would be. Of course it’s not as good as I remember it to be, but I think that’s the whole point of this rum. It’s an accessible rum for those who are new to the world of ‘real’ rum and those who may be experienced but just like to enjoy a simple rum once in a while. It’s a bit like if a serious movie reviewer would watch some rom-com or a superhero movie, he’s not remotely impressed but it still gives mindless enjoyment.

This rum speaks to the broad public (just as superhero movies) and therefore thrives in its target market. It’s also a great gateway rum to the immensely wide world of rum, as I don’t think anyone will start off with a crazy funky Hampden, or a grassy rhum agricole.

I might be a bit biased towards this rum, as it did start a passion that will run for a lifetime. But this rum does what it’s supposed to be doing and is doing it really good, It’s not that complex or interesting, but it is one of the better ‘industrial style’ rums. therefore I believe it deserves a 6.5/10