Sometimes you have to speak plainly, at the start, and so I shall: This new rum, from Panama’s oldest distilling family, is the most delicious thing I have stumbled across this year. It strikes an exquisite balance between the unctuousness that can sometimes go too far in a dark rum, and the bold spiciness that draws us to the spirit in the first place. It combines smoothness and power in the manner which nearly all drinkers seek, in any sort of bottling.
This is not to say that it simply sits in the middle; the flavors are, in fact, complex and quite strong. I was not at all surprised to learn that the Ron Abuelo XII Años Two Oaks Selección Especial ($60) was “conceived as a bridge for those who enjoy whiskey (especially Bourbon),” according to the makers. “Using innovative barrel techniques and treatments,” they sought “to produce a rum that is rounder and silkier than what currently existed in the Abuelo portfolio… something so smooth and exceptional that new techniques were needed to produce the desired result.”
The rum experienced a complex process. Incorporating aged rums averaging just over 11 years old (with a range from 8 to 40+ years), the blend ages in white oak bourbon barrels before being finished for an additional nine months in first fill extra-charred American oak. Ron Abuelo rums are produced by the third-generation family-owned Varela Hermanos, a company that dates back to 1908, when Don José Varela established the first sugar mill in the town of Pesé (a small valley in the Azuero Peninsula) in the recently formed Republic of Panama.
A dark mahogany in the glass, with a bouquet of light smoke and toasted oak supported by vanilla and baking spice hints, the rum makes for an elegant Boulevardier. But at my place, the rest of the bottle, shared only with good friends, was served neat or with one large cube. It went fast, despite its long finish. It’s a special selection, indeed.