Matusalem Gran Reserva
Review: Ron Matusalum Gran Reserva 15 Rum (87 pts)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Updated May 25, 2013
Ron Matusalem prides itself on being a Cuban style of rum with a history in Cuba they trace back to 1872 when two brothers, Benjamin and Eduardo Camp, together with a partner, Evaristo Álvarez opened a distillery in Santiago de Cuba. According to the Matusalem website, the rum they were producing began to win acclaim by the first quarter of the 20th century. The distillery apparently operated until the 1960′s when due to the Cuban Revolution the Álvarez family was exiled, and the rum they made disappeared from the landscape.
The brand was resurrected by Claudio Álvarez Salazar, who is the great-grandson of Evaristo Álvarez. Of course, it was not possible given the political situation in Cuba for Claudio to produce or bottle the rum in Cuba. Apparently, it is produced (presumably by a third-party as Ron Matusalem does not own a distillery) and bottled in the Dominican Republic.
Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 is not a fifteen year old rum as many people believe, rather it is aged according to what the company calls a solera aging process which is described on their website as follows:
The Solera aging system is a cascading process where slightly younger rums are blended with slightly older rums. Stored in oak casks, the aged rum are stacked in different levels. The oldest distilled rum is housed on the lowest levels. Newer rums are put into the higher levels so that the youngest is on top. As the rum is pulled from the lowest Solera barrels for bottling, it is replaced with rum from the levels just above. This process is repeated with the remaining levels, though no more than one-third of each cask can be drawn off every three months. This marrying of old and new softens the fiery younger rum and provides it with a refined smoothness and flavor not found in ordinary rums. A 15-year Solera or a 10-year Solera is an average of the blended years. Our Matusalem rums are Solera blended and are a blend of aged rums that average a year’s designation.
I originally reviewed the Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 in October of 2009, and it was one of the original reviews which I published when I opened this website. After almost four years, it was time to revisit the rum and publish a more thorough and rounded review.
In the Bottle 4/5
The Matusalem Rum arrives in a nice package complete with a protective cardboard box which adds a nice bit of ambiance to my rum shelf. The medium tall corked bottle is distinctive with a look that appeals to me especially as a rum bottle.
I have a couple of quibbles with respect to the presentation which prevents a perfect score. The first is the statement on the bottle label which reads Formula Original de Cuba. This statement leads many people to believe that this is an authentic Cuban rum produced in Cuba. In fact, I have had many fruitless arguments with persons who point to that statement as proof of that particular point of view.
The second quibble is the red symbol on the label proudly proclaiming Solera 15 Blender. Again many people confuse this statement as meaning the rum is a 15-year-old spirit with the youngest rum in the blend being 15 years. The truth is, that we do not know the age of the youngest rum in the blend. I have seen some websites which claim the youngest rum in the blend is as young as 7 years, and others that claim it is closer to 12. I dislike confusing information, and when I see it, it always makes me wonder what other marketing information provided might be confusing. A cynic might believe the confusion is perpetrated on purpose.
In the Glass 8.5/10
When I pour a bit of the rum into my glencairn glass, the first thing I notice is the medium yellow/amber colour of the spirit which carries light tones of orange and red. The colour is lighter than I would have expected, which pleases me as this is an indication that perhaps we have a spirit which has not been coloured by caramel. When I tilt my glass and give it a swirl, I see that the spirit has a medium body which produces thickened legs traveling at a leisurely pace down the inside of my glass.
The initial aroma carries more oak than I remember from my past experiences with the Matusalem Gran Reserva 15. It is a sort of honeyed oak scent full of spice and vanilla. As the glass sits, the oak spices build in the air, and they are joined by scents of banana and orange peel. The empty glass (snooted after my sampling session was over) carries welcome notes of sweet butterscotch and baking spices (vanilla, brown sugar and cinnamon).
In the Mouth 52.5/60
As the rum enters my mouth I taste some sweet butterscotch and vanilla out in front, which is followed very quickly by a spicy bite of oak which is disguised as banana peel and tobacco. I taste some almond and marzipan flavours which remind me of whisky and even that spicy bite of oak has a whisky-like element. I like the rum a lot, but I do find that despite the obviously strong oak, butterscotch and vanilla flavours, the rum is not really all that complex. It tastes fine as a sipper, but I found myself slightly disinterested after my first glass. There was not really enough in the way of subtle nuances to keep me interested.
I wonder to myself as I sipped the rum whether it had changed significantly over the past few years. It seemed to be spicier now, with much more of an oak bite. I remember the flavour being much more mellow in the past, to the point that I used to consider it more of a mood based rum than a flavour based rum.
In the Throat 13.5/15
The finish carries a lot of that spicy oak which taps the tonsils in a good way, and as the spice fades from the palate, we are left with a lingering echo of vanilla.
The Afterburn 8.5/10
The Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 seems to have changed a little over the past four years. It carries a spicier oak presence throughout the taste experience, and it is not the mellow mood rum which I remember it to be. I found the rum to be a nice sipper; although the truth be told, I have been nipping into my latest bottle more for cocktails than for sipping.
If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.
Sloe Lime Daiquiri
(a modern daiquiri style cocktail)
1 1/2 oz Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 Rum
1/2 oz Fresh Lime juice
1 tsp Grenadine
4 Large Ice Cubes
1 Chilled Glencairn Glass
1/2 Ounce Sloe Gin
Place the first 4 Ingredients in a Metal Martini Shaker.
Shake Until Martini Shaker Chills.
Strain Into a chilled Glencairn Glass.
Add the Ice from the Martini Shaker.
Float the Sloe Gin on the top and let everything sit for one minute.
Garnish with Lime Slice if desired….. Enjoy!!
You may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)