As Venezuela is a former Spanish colony, it’s no surprise that distiller Santa Teresa (which celebrated its 200th year of production back in 1996) focuses on barreling methods to produce its fine products. Its latest offering, Santa Teresa 1796, takes the practice a step further by employing the “solera” method of cask aging; that technique originated in the Iberian peninsula, predominantly for sherry production.
The solera process employs a kind of pyramid scheme whereby spirits are aged in a series of barrels, then portions of the aged spirits are moved to additional barrels; the space created is refilled with new spirits, and so on. The barrels themselves are never fully emptied in each step, creating an ongoing intermingling of younger and older spirits. The word “solera” is derived from the Spanish word for earth, so historically, the lowest barrels in the system—the ones closest to the ground and with a blend of the oldest spirits—are used to bottle the final product.
Solera aging of rum has sparked some controversy in the hardcore grog-lovers’ world, as the process serves as a counter-point to the more traditional single-cask aging of rum. Solera-aged rums really cannot list an age on the label, since the bottle contains a blend of aged spirits.
But, the proof is in the tasting, right?
In 1796’s case, the approach just plain works. Molasses-derived fermentations are pot-stilled and multi-stage stilled into heavier and lighter source spirits. All three sources receive a separate barrel aging in former bourbon oak barrels. The results are blended together and then aged over time via the solera process. 1796’s “mother spirit” contains agings of up to 35 years, in fact.
Another byproduct of solera aging is an uncanny consistency and balance. And with rum this good on the tongue, that is something you want. Santa Theresa 1796 (typically about $45) was created to commemorate the distillery’s bicentennial, and fourth generation owner Alberto Vollmer Herrera challenged his team to pull out the stops.
First up, a citrusy/woody nose that belies the rich red-brown color. A hint of the expected molasses sweetness comes next, but it is light, crisp, and complex, not syrupy at all. You can’t really call sweetness “dry,” but that’s the description that comes to mind for me. Then come a series of spice notes so intense that one would almost place the spirit into the spiced-after-the-fact realm: vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, honey and touch of nuttiness. Sounds almost like a whiskey, yes?
In fact, Santa Teresa is touting 1796 as rum for whiskey lovers, and they are not off the target at all. Sipping it on the rocks is pure rum delight, but it could easily work in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan.
** AN UPDATE: During the month of June, purchase a bottle of Santa Teresa 1796 on ReserveBar and you’ll be invited to a Father’s Day “1796 Virtual Speakeasy,” with top mixologists leading a complimentary Zoom cocktail class.