Don Pancho Aged 18 Year Reserva Especial Rum
The bad news first – Rum is a wild card. Anywhere you can make sugar, you can make Rum. Which means you can make Rum everywhere.
Its “home” or at least one of its homes – the Caribbean – spans so many different countries (including ours, the French, the Brits, and still, at this late day and age, every other European colonizing power) that nobody agrees on what Rum actually is, how it is to be matured, and how it should be labeled. Pretty much anything that Americans drink with the call “[blank] & coke,” the rest of the world doesn’t classify as Rums. So get all that flavored stuff, all the sorority-girl-gone-unimaginable stuff, out of mind. Let’s sample the real deal:
The good news – Don Pancho is the Pappy Van Winkle of Rum.
Pancho is a familiar nickname for Francisco Don Pancho Fernandez, Cuban, Rum-master, Maestro of the Havana Club, and master distiller. The title “Don” is the serious part. He’s so well respected at what he does, he gets the honorarium. For 50 years, Pancho made Rum in Cuba. Yes, some of that time was under Fidel. He was so trusted by Fidel – or Fidel loved his rum so much as a pairing with Cuban cigars – that Pancho was given free reign as long as his Rum was the best. Now when the time came, Pancho was able to cash in his chips (to Bacardi no less!) and exit Cuba. His quest? To Panama.
In a rusty, jungly shack at Las Cabras de Pese, Panama, lay the last Willet Pot still. This Panamanian shed was surround by 1,000 acres of sugar cane. Pancho had discovered the Lost City of Z for Rum production. After many years the result is these two sensational Rums:
The 8 Year opens with harmonious notes of wild carnation, caramel, maple sugar, orange and apricot. This is a through-and-through age statement—most rums are age “expressions”—meaning that after eight years, the oak has matured the palate to a buttery feel of Macadamia nut, toffee, candied fruits and vanilla pod. Serve it neat, on the rocks, or in a magnificent cocktail.
The 18 Year is a luxury meant to be savored neat. Waves of honey, tea, cardamom and sweet figs fill the glass with their aromas. The 8 is certainly wonderful, but here the depth of flavor is sublime. Instead of one violin playing the melody, it’s a symphony. The years of aging – again, truly an 18 year (the angels’ share is immense) – give the spirit a neverendingly smooth finish of cola nut, brown sugar, biscuit, saffron and candied hazelnuts. Serve with a slice of pure heaven.
Don Pancho is now 75 years old and this is his heart and soul, and the 30 year comes right from the start of the project. As he puts it:
“The 30 YO Reserva evokes the true orthodox school of Cuban rum, a product not intended for mainstream, in fact a product only for connoisseurs.”
“This is not an aperitif but a digestive. Drink it slowly, drink it neat. Never alone.”
Think of the cost of the angel’s share – the amount lost due to evaporation. Pancho starts with ten 225-liter barrels for each release of this spirit. As the spirit evaporates, he uses one of the barrels to refill the others. At the end of 30 years, he is left with 1,500 bottles – a “loss” of over 90% to craft this magnificent spirit. Yes, the price is high, but the angel’s share is even greater. Compared to other 30-year spirits, it remains a bargain.
Rum is always an exceptional value, and now it’s simply sensational.