Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review 53 - El Dorado 21 year old Special Reserve

Photo copyright © H.Kristoffersen
A real 21 year old rum. From Guyana. Bring it on.

Good ole El Dorado.

Unless you are very enthusiastic about your rum budget, this is the top of line as far as the El Dorado products go.

There is an insane jump in price if you wish to go to the 25 year old – and an insane amount of extra added sugar. But I won’t elaborate on that until the day when I hopefully get to review the 25 year old. However it will only happen if a bottle falls into my lap or somebody makes a larger sample available. I am probably not going to buy it myself – ever.

I know, never say never, right? But it is just so insanely expensive comparing to the other liqueurs rums out there.

Enough about the 25. It is the 21 I am looking at here. Focus boy, focus.

According to a previously published matrix made by Stephanie Holt of DDL, the El Dorado 21 i s dominated by rum from the Albion still, with influences of Enmore and Versailles.

Blended to perfection and aged for at least 21 years in oak casks. I like the Demerara (among others) way – ”At least” 21 years. No sketchy solera statements or anniversary names. Just proper age.

Bottled at 43% ABV we are slightly above the standard 40%, which I applaud. For a mass produced product, I think it is great. I would have been more pleased with 45-46%, but at least it is above the boring 40%

Hydrometer tests have shown somewhere around 16 g/l of added sugar in the product. One can only wonder why they would need that. Perhaps it has something to do with the consistency in the product from batch to batch.

I do understand that master blenders need to aim for similar notes and characteristics across many vintages and different distillates. And I don’t have sufficient knowledge of blending or production to claim, that this could easily be done at a higher ABV or without adding sugar.

Typical El Dorado bottle-in-a-box.

The brown, squat, opaque, pirate-y looking bottle, which I absolutely love, protected from hurtful sunlight by a flimsy cardboard box.

Topped off by a natural cork with a plastic stopper.

The bottle has no real label per say. More of a printed on kind of thing, which makes everything seem more see-through. On the front we have the name, heritage and ABV, along with a massive ”21”. The latter being different from the 12 and 15 year olds, which have a painting of a boat instead.

On the back we have a long story printed in a script font. Seems like marketing drivel, so I didn’t really read it all.

The box is a nice dark blue, and follows the standard layout of the 12 and 15. Standard information along with the painting of the boat on the front. Picture of the bottle with repetition of the standard information on the back.

Both sides are covered with a short marketing story in english and spanish. Nothing too interesting.

The rum it self is a dark bronze coloured liquid, which generates some heavy curtains inside the glass. Legs are fat and slow moving, which worries me a bit. It is a ”feature” normally found in rums with much added sweetening.

Huge molasses from the start, with a decent amount of liquorice to follow.

Next comes some mouldy old oak and notes of vanilla.

Soon after an onslaught of prunes and raisins.

On the more subtle side we have a little roasted almonds to ”spice” it all up a bit.

All in all a bulky and clumsy nose, and also very sweet. It has complexity and sets some expectations for the taste, but it isn’t really super huge or exciting.

An immediate drying effect sets in.

The the first flavours arrive with a thin sirupy taste with oak influences.

It evolves into a more thick molasses experience after just a split second.

Then more oak and some of those familiar fat red wine notes, that seems to be part of so many Demerara rums. Also notes of bitter dark chocolate.

Raisins galore along with dried apricots and papaya.

Just barely avoids getting to sweet for me. And frankly it feels a bit flat.

Only the agressive drying effect and the slightly above standard ABV saves the day.

Unfortunately not as complex as I would have though after nosing it.

Very smooth and semi long finish. Not very hot-headed or intense, but it lives up to its proof very nicely – and nothing more.

More molasses and oaken notes on the exit. That is it.

After a lot of sips and a lot of time it starts to feel more and more like port in my glass. Perhaps it is time to put down the glass and step away from the table.

The drying effect leaves your mouth feeling somewhat clean and ready for another sip.
Quite a feat when taking its sweet nature into consideration.

Rating and final thoughts
There is nothing wrong in calling this rum a good sipper. It is. And many people will agree with me on this. It does display a good over all experience and if I had never run into indie bottlings of Demerara rums, I might even have called the ED21 the best Guyana rum I ever tasted.

But I did run into the indie bottlings and to be absolutely honest, this rum disappointed me a lot in three particular areas.

1)    The 43% proof is good, but feels very unambitious.

2)    It is a bit boring – flat even - considering what it is and what heritage it is trying to carry on. And that leads to number three.
3)    All that added sugar. Why would you do that, DDL?! You have perhaps the most diverse and exciting stock of rum in the world, and yet you choose to blend your 21+ year (tropical years that is!) rums with the equivalent of 16 grams of sugar pr. liter of rum.
Apart from the fact that you have to smooth out everything so the ED21 keeps being the ED21, I can’t even begin to fathom why you would destroy and disrespect such precious wares with that much sugar.  Shame on you DDL. Go stand in the corner!

Pretty please DDL, sell all your 12+ year old stocks to independant bottlers from now on and save a huge part of the rum world. They seem to be better at creating diverse and memorable rums than you are.

(And I am not even going to rant about what you do to your 25+ year old stock. Two words: Atrocity and disgrace.)

Even though I believe that DLL could do so much better, this is still a good rum! Make no mistake. Perhaps I have just grown accustomed to the refined single cask expressions of most inde bottlers. Perhaps the ED21 is as far as old age mass produced rums can go? I don't know.

Value for money is alright. At a price around €80 you get a lot of bang for your buck. The main competitors are the Ron Zacapa XO, Rum Nation Panama 21 and Appleton Estate 21.

But you could also go nuts and choose a Cadenheads 14 year old Cuban cask strength, a Velier 15 year old 55% Caroni, a J.M. Millesimé 2002, a Compagnie des Indes 16 year old Foursquare or many other great rums.

It all comes down to this: Are you a fan of El Dorado and/or sweet rums in general? If yes, then you should definitely get the ED21 before you get the Zacapa XO. Believe me, the ED21 is better.

Comparing this with the ED15 there are some similarities, but also a lot of differences. They  consist of different blends of different stills and that plays a big part. That is the diversity of the Guyanese stills for you. If price is important to you, I would definitely choose the ED15, as it is only half the expense of the ED21.

Both are good products in my opinion, and I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. In my world there is a time an place for each of them. And that is why the ED21 deserves a similar score, namely a…

Rating: 73/100



  1. If I'm being honest, I think I prefer the taste of the ElDo 15. The smaller price tag is icing on the cake. :) Nice write up!

    1. The ED15 has better value for money than the ED21 in my book.

      Perhaps the ED15 is even a bit more casual to drink - possibly because of the increase in added sugar (the ED15 has more than twice the added sugar).

      But if money weren't an issue, I think I would prefer the ED21 :)

  2. Great write up. You get better with every review.

    When I first tried the ED 21 back in 2010, I can't remember it being all that sweet at all. I'm beginning to wonder if the recipe has been mucked around with over the five years since then. Of course, I was just starting out then too, so what do I know?

    Also: many West Indian rums are bottled at 40% for the American market, and 43% for Europe. If you think the ED21 at 43% could have been more torqued up, don't ever go neat the 40% variation. Still annoys me every time I think about it.

    1. Thank you for the compliments, Lance.

      My review has been a long time underway with many revisits before the conclusion was made.

      I remember my first encounter with it at a time when I was in a sweeter fase. The thing which stood out the most was the dryness, and at that time it didn't feel sweet compared to the other products I enjoyed.

      However as time went by, it seemed to become more and more sweet, as my personal preference moved away from the sweetened products and in to cask strength territory.

      So I guess the broader spectrum of reference has made it seem more sweet.

  3. Probably didn't realise Lance my taste has changed in just over a year! What I once thought as not so sweet is no like a sugar rush! I echo Lance's sentiments though this is one of the few Rum Review blogs I read.

    Anyway the point of me posting.......ahhh yes. If you can get a hold of Cadenheads Classic Rum and/or the 1824 cask Henrik (and Lance) then give them a spin. At 50% and 68% respectively they have more kick. Surprisngly both are pretty "sweet" as well. I really enjoy both and have championed them to a few people who have agreed with me. They are really good.

    I haven't published the 1824 review yet but here is the Classic Rum Review

    1. Would love to try more Cadenhead's rums. Unfortunately my local Cadenhead's shop doesn't stock the Classic rum or the 1824 cask :( Perhaps I should have a chat with them about it.