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Style in the spotlight: Spanish Style

Spanish Style Rum is the Rum that most people have come into contact with at some point. The Spanish style may have been the latecomer to the Rum party, but today the style is largely responsible for the great success of Rum. And here's why.


The knowledge of Sherry

The Spanish style came into being at the beginning of the 19th century when some Spaniards emigrated to Cuba to apply their knowledge and experience from the Sherry and brandy world to Rum. Until then, rum was still a fairly artisanal product with a slightly rough, but fine taste. Applying techniques from the world of Sherry brought a sophistication to the Rum world that was previously unseen. The main characteristics are: short fermentation, column distillate and Solera maturation.


Short fermentation

Spanish style Rum used to be made exclusively from molasses. Rum was originally distilled with molasses fermented to about 12-14% ABV. This fermentation gave an enormous amount of taste, but that taste was sometimes considered a bit 'coarse' due to the higher number of esters. The Spaniards therefore chose to stop the fermentation more quickly, making the end product much more accessible. For many Rum drinkers, too much flavor was lost that way, but the Spaniards had enough knowledge to solve that problem.


Column Distillate

Once the short fermentation had ended, the Spaniards chose to use a column still for the distillation. This column ensures that different 'batches' of Rum no longer have to be distilled as in a pot still. With a Column you can go through your entire distillation process in one go. This method is very practical, because you can reach high alcohol volumes much faster. With a slow fermentation, a column is a necessity, otherwise you would have to start over distilling three times to get the desired result. A column also comes with its drawbacks: the end product usually loses a great deal of its flavor due to the way the higher alcohol volumes are achieved.

Astute readers will have noticed by now that there is a problem: both the short fermentation and the column distillate have the disadvantage that there is a loss of taste. But then what makes a Spanish style Rum so good?


Solera Maturation

The greatest innovation in the world of Rum was the Solera maturation. Solera maturation is a way to deliver and continue to deliver a superior end product by investing time in the very beginning. Solera makes the 'blending' or mixing of Rums of different years virtually unnecessary and guarantees a certain quality for many years. This is how it works:

Schematic of a Solera 8 System

In the Solera system, barrels are stacked according to age. The oldest barrels are at the bottom (Suelo) and the younger barrels are stacked on top. Rum is always tapped at the bottom. The barrels are then topped up with the barrels above. Those barrels in turn with barrels above them and so on. At the very top, the barrels are always topped up with fresh Rum. By means of this system, part of the oldest Rum is always mixed with a slightly younger Rum, so that you always have a nice matured Rum. Intensive use of this system also ensures that flavors are guaranteed over time. There is always a part of the oldest Rum present. For example, some Solera systems are more than a hundred years old, so in theory you still have a piece of the original, old Rum in your glass.

Solera does require an investment. You can only speak of a Solera 8 years if you actually have 8 year old Rum to start with. This means that you always have to save a part of your production for later integration in your Solera. Producers of Spanish style Rums are known for keeping a huge stock of aged Rums. A Solera of more than 20 years old is therefore not that exceptional.


Result

Spanish style Rum gets the majority of its taste through the aging in barrel. It is customary in most countries that produce Spanish-style Rum to only talk about Rum when it has matured for at least 2 years. Also your Bacardì Carta Blanca has spent 2 years of its life in barrel. The result is a Rum that is very smooth and usually has clear notes of wood on the nose, and vanilla, tobacco and caramel on the palate. Young Spanish style Rum can sometimes come across a bit dull and not very tasteful. Especially when the Rum has been aged in cellars or cool places. Spanish style Rum that has matured for a long time, just think of Solera 15 and more, will get a lot of complexity in combination with a softness on the tongue.

Especially when the aging takes place in a warm climate, so with a lot of 'Angel share', the Rum will turn out to be very tasty. Many producers opt for a good average. Rums such as La Hechicera and Santa Teresa have been matured for a long time with a Solera of sometimes more than 30 years in cool cellars. As a result, the barrels release their flavor slowly, but enough to add a lot of it.

Due to its softness, this Style has convinced many people of the quality of Rum as a drink that you can drink every day. People who previously thought Rum was too strong could discover something new in this version that was soft enough to drink on a regular basis. The Cuban market quickly grew thanks to producers such as Bacardì and Matusalem who brought on board a wealth of knowledge and experience and convinced both Cubans and tourists. The Rum from Cuba became the benchmark and records were broken during Prohibition, as the Americans who could afford it traveled to Cuba to drink, while the others drank smuggled Rum. The enormous popularity of cocktails, such as the Cuba Libre, based on Cuban Rum, also helped with sales. Rum was hot, and Cuba was the birthplace of the hottest Rum on the market.


Revolución

After the Cuban Revolution, the production of Rum was nationalized and many producers fled to other islands to start production again. Spanish style has spread all over the world in this way. Rum production in Cuba slowed down and the government managed the abandoned stocks as a strategic reserve. The ban on Cuban products in the United States has caused a further decline in exports. Cuba has meanwhile started a huge catch-up with brands such as Havana Club and Santiago de Cuba, in collaboration with European companies, being put back on the map.

In this way they also benefit from the fact that the former Cuban brands have continued to profile themselves as Cuban. They have thus continued to promote Cuban Rum as a quality label.

The Cuban government is now also starting to sell its reserves. For example, a lot of top quality Rums are currently being released for sale, which gives the Cuban government some financial breathing room.


Controversy

The Spanish style is also the victim of a lot of controversy. The strongest point of the style is also the biggest bone of contention. Here's an overview of the controversies:

  • No molasses. Rum has long been a seasonal product. Sugar cane must be processed into sugar and molasses almost immediately after harvesting, otherwise spontaneous fermentation occurs. The molasses must also be processed quickly afterwards for the same reason. Some Rum producers could never process the sugar cane and molasses on time, so they actually produced too little Rum compared to the amount of sugar cane available. Expanding production capacity would require a huge investment for an installation that is only operational for a short period of time in a year. That is why some producers started to squeeze the sugar cane, but what could not be distilled immediately was not processed into sugar and molasses, but boiled down to a syrup. This syrup can then be stored for a long time and fermented in several batches. This way the fermentation and distillation process can remain active all year round and you have little loss. In the end there is little to no difference in taste, but it is no longer about molasses, which causes some discussion.

  • Added sugars. To compensate for the loss of taste and to give the Rum more flavor without a long maturation, there are certain producers that add sugar to their Rum. Sugar is a flavor enhancer and that of course provides a better experience. The problem for Rumdrinkers is not that sugar is added, but that there is not enough communication about it. Some countries, such as Cuba, do not allow the addition of sugar, others, such as Germany, require its mention.

  • Cuban. Many producers flirt with their Cuban roots. Others take on a Cuban image, but most Spanish-style Rums simply don't come from Cuba. Consumers are often misled and deceived. Bacardì today comes from Puerto Rico or Mexico, Oliver and Matusalem from the Dominican Republic. Havana Club is only Cuban in our region. In the USA, Havana Club is also Rum from Bacardì, but with a different label. It doesn't affect the quality, but it does affect the credibility.

  • Age. The Solera system is the biggest point of discussion today. It is the strongest point of the style, but also the biggest bone of contention. The reason is that most producers only state the age of the oldest Rum on their label, but the amount of Rum of that age can never be proven. Even if it contains only 1% of the oldest Rum, people still use that age. Some producers now indicate what the youngest Rum is, others give a fork of years, in order to avoid discussion. Ultimately, age doesn't really matter. The taste is what counts, but the number purism has seeped through from other branches of the spirits and other alcoholic beverages, and is used these days as an argument against these Rums.

Where to find?

You will mainly find the Spanish style these days in the Caribbean and the rest of South America. The Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto-Rico are sure to ring a bell. Colombia, Panama and Venezuela are also known for their Rum offerings, but the latter two usually play at a slightly higher level and do not flirt with a Cuban link, on the contrary. Spanish-style Rum also comes from Mexico: in addition to Bacardì, there are also a few smaller producers who usually offer fairly sweet Rum.

The Spanish style can also be found in the Philippines, but there is often a focus on a short maturation and added sugar, which is not everyone's thing.

Within Europe you will also find this style on the Canary Islands.


Best-known brands

The best known brands of Spanish style Rum are:

  • Havana Club

  • Bacardì

  • Matusalem

  • Pampero

  • Abuelo

  • Zacapa

  • Santa-Teresa

  • Diplomatico

  • Dictator

  • Don Papa

  • The Demon's Share

Terminology

  • Añejo: This means 'matured' and is usually followed by one of the following terms.

  • x Años: años indicates the number of years effectively matured.

  • x Solera: in most cases this indicates the oldest Rum in the Solera blend.


Conclusion

The Spanish style is usually a starting point for a Rum drinker. The style has become a phenomenon and has a large following. Certainly more expensive high-end brands such as Zacapa and Dictator, and high-end versions of Havana Club and Bacardì are doing better and better on the Rum market. The reason is logical: because of the much softer flavors, this Rum is much more accessible and because of the link with the first Rum that people have ever drunk, this is usually also a recognizable taste. The controversies surrounding Spanish-style Rum somewhat affect the perception of the quality, but the producers deal with it better than before, so that the choice for a quality Rum is becoming increasingly extensive and the Spanish style can also be added to that market.


Do you want to taste a nice Spanish style Rum? Then come by or book our tasting at home.



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