Is more expensive rum better? You’d think that would be a no-brainer, but I don’t make assumptions. Case in point: I was sent a bottle of vodka to review a few years ago, selling for $160 a bottle. $160! It was no better than my local grocery store’s $10 bottom-shelf vodka! I researched and found that a few years earlier, the same vodka was selling for $40 a bottle (and even that was too high). But what made it suddenly worth four times as much? More Googling showed inconsistencies in where the vodka was made, and I learned that the price had been yo-yo-ing up and down. On the company’s website were supposed customer reviews which were unanimously five stars, including one I remember saying: ‘This is my go-to vodka. I always buy it six bottles at a time!” Really? At $160 a bottle? For poor-quality vodka? At that time, you could get five or six bottles of Grey Goose for $160! So, the moral is, “don’t believe everything you read.”
Now, on to the rums. Two years ago, I received a pair of Ron Centenario Costa Rican rum bottles to evaluate for an online retailer. It’s a long story, but the short version is that the bottles were delivered too late for me to review, so they went to the back of the queue, forgotten. Then, after a recent tidy-up, I noticed them again. I decided to taste them and find out whether more expensive rum was really better (or not). I was curious just how good this Centenario rum really is- I’ve never tried rum from Costa Rica.
I checked the Ron Centenario website (which could be better); however, unlike the vodka mentioned above, their website shows a real company with a real history, including their support of a Jaguar Rescue Center. They’ve even adopted several young cubs, which gets a thumbs-up from me. But I digress!
So, back to the original question: Is more expensive rum better?
The 7-year-old Ron Centenario sells for around $20. Based on the price, I expected a decent but not exceptional rum. It’s aged in American oak barrels but lacks a strong aroma. The taste is enjoyably smooth, with a honey sweetness, some clove and cinnamon spices, a dash of smokiness, a bit of vanilla and coconut, and, naturally, a little oak. If anything, I’d say it was underpriced for the quality.
At $50-$60 a bottle, the 20-year-old Ron Centenario should hit it up a notch, and it does! It’s deeper in color, and you can actually smell the aromas with your nose several inches from the glass- not so much with the 7-year-old. With its longer maturation time in the barrels, the flavors are more complex- there’s more oakiness, vanilla, and a lusher mouthfeel, along with tropical fruit flavors. It also has a long, smooth, and honey-sweet finish.
Both rums are definitely of sippable quality, but the 20-year-old is clearly better. Three times better? That’s hard to say- it depends on your personal taste. But for me, it’s clearly a much more enjoyable rum.
I then tried both rums in simple rum and cola cocktails. I normally avoid commercial cola drinks from the USA due to the extensive use of High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is not good for your health. Always read the list of ingredients and avoid HFCS as much as possible. Luckily, I live in southern Arizona, not far from the Mexico border (my wife and I go to the dentist in Mexico!), and, from time to time, our grocery stores carry Coke made in Mexico- they don’t use HFCR. So, if we find a store with stock, we share that the info with friends!
I made a rum and cola with both rums, and the difference was again quite evident. While the 7-year-old made a perfectly fine cocktail, the 20-year-old rum was infinitely better, as expected- it was smoother with more flavors.
So, is more expensive rum better? In this case, the answer is “Yes!” Whether sipping neat or in cocktails, it made a big difference. Personally, I’ll be using the younger rum in cocktails and saving the older one for sipping and sharing with friends.