In Central America, there’s a pecking order of rums and I’ve yet to meet anyone who puts Ron Abuelo from Panama at the top. It’s certainly not bad, it just has some really tough competition and doesn’t quite rise to the level of the league’s top players.
If you happen to be traveling in Panama, however, or you see this on the shelf in your local liquor store like I did recently, you’ll find that it’s a terrific value. I paid less than $20 for the bottle pictured below–in a gift box even! That’s a great bargain for good rum aged seven years in former bourbon barrels. There’s also a 12-year version that often sells for less than $30, a wonderful price for any spirit that has been maturing in oak barrels for 12 years.
So what does it taste like? Not quite like anything else, actually, but not because the elements are out of balance. Ron Abuelo is made from both distilled sugar cane juice and distilled molasses. The two batches are then blended together before going into barrels. This puts it in between the rums made from one or the other, making it a smooth rum with a bit of bite on the finish.
When I’ve tried the 12-year Ron Abuelo on several occasions it was definitely good enough to sip neat and if you’re traveling in Panama, order it regularly. To my palate the 7-year version isn’t refined enough to stand on its own. I’ll still gladly drink it that way if someone offers, but I think this rum works better for cocktails. I wouldn’t kill it with four other ingredients that cover up the taste—you may as well get the base level one for that—but with just pineapple juice or some soda and lime it’s delicious.
You get all the expected flavor profiles with Abuelo: toffee, caramel, vanilla, and some floral notes. It is well-balanced and has some heft without much burn on the finish. Perhaps because of the blending process, it lies somewhere between ultra-smooth Centenario (Costa Rica) and manly Flor de Cana (Nicaragua).
Although the competition is tough in this region, if you compare this brand to the bulk of the Caribbean ones I’d say Grandpa wins handily. Ron Abuelo is one of the best values in the rum aisle, almost always priced significantly below inferior brands from Jamaica, Barbados, or Puerto Rico. Add it to your home bar, give it a try in Panama, or bring a gift that’s priced like a bottle of wine.