flor-de-canaFlor de Caña Centenario 12-year Rum is certainly one of the finest in the world. It comes not from some Caribbean island, but from the Central American country of Nicaragua. The name means “sugar cane flower” and it has a sweet smell indeed. (Gringo tip: the last word is pronounced “KAHN-ya,” like Kanye West with an ah instead of an eh.)

It kind of goes without saying that anything aged 12 years is meant to be a sipping spirit, not a mixer. I got my chance to sip some, surprisingly, while staying at an upscale all-inclusive resort. I expected to see some good tequila, but did a double-take when I sidled up to the bar at the Blue Diamond Resort in the Riviera May and saw a bottle of Flor de Caña 12-year Centenario rum sitting there on the shelf with faux “top shelf” spirits like Bombay gin and Grey Goose vodka. It took about a half a second to decide what to order.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this 12-year rum, but the last was many years ago when I was traveling through Honduras and I had a fat hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigar in one hand, this rum in the other. The people that criticize Flor de Caña (and they are a minority) say this is actually the best way to drink this brand as it’s got a heavier, darker bite than most others from the region. But I thought I should drink it neat with no distractions to the palate to properly judge it.

After savoring two glasses as I watched the sun go down, I’ve got a pretty good sense of what it’s about. It’s a complex, well-balanced rum that is consistent throughout the journey: on the nose, in the first sip, in the lingering finish. It’s got all the things going for it that spirits geeks get excited about: structure, balance, and depth. Novice drinkers will taste the requisite caramel, vanilla, toffee, and spices that should come through in any quality rum. Experienced palates will probably detect different nuts, cloves, chocolate, or cloves. This is a rum that rewards time and reflection.

To me though, it’s a bit sharper, a bit meatier, a bit manlier than my favorite, Ron Zacapa Centenario 15 year. For many this extra oomph is clearly a good thing, the same way beer nerds seek out the hoppiest extra-strong ale they can find and some wine drinkers shun even the best Pinot Grigio as blah. There’s not a “best rum” out there, but rather a rum that’s the best for you. The 100+ awards this Nicaraguan rum has won would indicated that for many rum lovers, it’s the best for them.

As I write this the old bottle design is getting the boot and the new one you see here is taking over. Soon this more elegant and contemporary one will be the .

Nicaragua rum

You can find this 12-year version in U.S. stores for widely varying prices between $31 (grab it) and $45 (where there are better deals in the bourbon and Scotch aisles). Duty free can be a different story though, especially if there’s a 2-for-1 sale going on.

Where you really find this to be a terrific value is in Nicaragua itself, where it’s practically a crime not to drink well since the prices are so good. You can often find the Flor de Caña line-up there for a shade over a dollar per year of aging. So the four-year bottle will cost you under $5. You might as well “splurge” and buy the good stuff. If you don’t want to commit, you can order a glass neat in a bar for a few dollars first to try it.

I’ve heard rumors that Mukul Resort—owned by the same family that produces this rum—puts a bottle of the 12-year version in each guest’s room. I’ll be there in February and will report back on that. For rum lovers, that sounds a lot better than a fruit basket.

I have one research task on my list while I’m there: sip a glass of the Flor de Cana 18-year and 25-year versions in the same Centenario collection. Is that too long in an oak barrel, in a sweating warehouse in the tropics? The tasters who do this all the time say no, so we shall see…

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