Rum review: El Dorado 8 vs El Dorado 8.
Wait. What? Oh, right – my bad – some explanation is needed before I launch into this review. Now, as I’ve hinted at before, individual spirits can change over time. It’s a mistake to think otherwise and it’s something the serious cocktailista needs to keep a wary eye on. Formulas and production techniques are prone to change due to financial pressures, market demand, the sourcing of raw materials and a host of other reasons. While it’s tempting to say these changes are often for the worse it’s certainly not always so. Often the changes for the worse happened some time ago and producers realise there is a demand to restore the product to a former glory. I’ll get into some detail on this on a case by case basis in due course but today we’re talking about rum so we’ll stick to that. Rum has recently become a more seriously regarded spirit than it was in the past. Some say, and not without merit, “Rum is the new whisky” although I stubbornly believe that “Whisky is the new whisky”. Whatever. But rum is not a universally well regulated spirit* and all sorts of additives are possible depending on where it is made. The most controversial of those is sugar. I’ve touched on sugar-in-rum before but it’s safe to say some serious rum heads (self included) have had enough. We generally don’t oppose the sweetening of some rum, which after all some people enjoy, but sickened of buying well reviewed bottles only to discover they are essentially rum liqueurs, we want to see the added sugar (called dosage in the industry) clearly marked on the bottles. A few rum nuts have taken to using a cunning trick to calculate the sugar content of various rums and publishing it for all to see. I’ve just started trying to do the same but am not yet fully confident of my methodology – of which more later. The European Union has also had enough and have recently mandated some new regulations on what can be called “rum” that is imported into the zone. Most notably nothing that contains more than 20 grams of sugar per litre may be labelled as rum. It’s a sensible level to draw the line at but I’d much rather they also mandated the labelling of the dosage on each bottle. Given the size of the EU market this must certainly be an effect on many distillers’ decisions in the future. One distiller of rum has clearly been paying attention to both of the above pressures and is thoroughly revising their range. Guyana based Demerara Distillers Limited (aka El Dorado) have some well regarded rums but until now many of those suffered from a relatively heavy hand with the sugar content. In the past I’ve discovered their highly regarded 12 year old far too sweet for my palate but have settled on the much drier 8 year old as my default Demerara rum to put a little rich smokiness in my Tiki drinks and rum blends. Changes in spirits are not usually heralded by the producers but in this case the word on the street is that versions with the reduced dosage will also come with a new label. So when I noticed the newer label when I went to restock it was going to be time for a comparison. And here we are.
Now as El Dorado 8 was already one of the driest rums in their range I’m not expecting to see a massive change here. For my first trick I will attempt to scientifically assess the sugar content of each version of El Dorado 8 using the hydrometer method. I measure the old version of El Dorado 8 at about 8g/l and the new label version at around 6g/l but with my limited tools and experience – and the already low sugar content – it’s hard to be sure. There is some evidence that ED 8 used to be around 15 g/l so it could well be that the reduction happened some time before the new label after all. So is there actually any difference between the new label and the old at all? Looks like we’ll just have to taste some…
Let’s first look at what they both have in common. Each has the same elegantly shaped if somewhat top-heavy clear bottle with a normal screw cap. Both are bottled at 40%ABV. Nothing too impressive here but it’s hard to complain at this price (I paid €19.95). The newer version has a similar label but somewhat larger and kind of “cleaned up” compared to the older one and with the background colour changed from black to maroon. I slightly prefer the newer one but there’s not much in it and neither are exactly great works of art. But who cares – let’s crack ’em open!
Both have a very similar pleasing coppery hue which looks great in the clear bottles. I much prefer to see the colour of a rum in the bottle and therefore dislike coloured bottles. While it is possible that the colour comes from 8 years in the barrel in a tropical climate it is also possible some caramel colouring (which incidentally is not sweet) has been added to maintain a consistent colour. I’d like to take this opportunity to warn those new to rum about rum age statements. El Dorado rums are all aged to at least the number of years in the bottle as you might well expect but some producers are less honest and use a couple of tricks to, in my opinion, deceive the buyer. One is used by those who use the solera system of blending rums of different ages and then label the final product with the oldest rum used (likely a tiny proportion). For example, ahem, “23 years”. So check for the word “solera” on those. The other is even more deceptive and that is to put a number on the bottle as the name of the rum. A number that is entirely arbitrary and has no relationship to the age of the contents. Dastardly. So always check that you see, as we do on these bottles, the word “years” accompanying the number. Since I’ve got that one off my chest we can move along. And it’s good news:
When I compare the newer version in the maroon label the difference is quite clear. It’s as if a veil over the flavours has dropped away. All the rummy goodness is just magnified and it’s abundantly clear that sweetness – perceived or measurable – deadens real flavour. Those baking spices, woodiness and subtle smokiness are there in spades now. It has a little more “bite” than the older version and some might describe it as less “smooth”. It is my belief that when many people say a spirit is “smooth” they are really experiencing a sweetness that masks the inevitable “bite” of alcohol. Hence some will think the newer version less smooth but frankly that’s their problem. To me what was already a rich and rewarding rum is simply even more enjoyable from a reduction in sweetness. It’s certainly possible that more than just reducing the sugar slightly DDL have also changed the blend of rums used in their 8 year old offering but whatever has occurred, to me at least, the newer version is a significantly better rum and that the producers should be commended. A typical use of demerara rum for the Tiki enthusiast would be as one of a duo or trio of rums in a tropical drink. I enjoy El Dorado 8 in a Navy Grog (or variation thereof) on a pretty regular basis and found that drink just a shade better with the newer version. While I would consider the older version a good mixing rum the newer bottle would be equally enjoyable in a whisky glass on it’s lonesome – or maybe just a cube of ice. That’s pretty high praise for a rum I can buy a couple of blocks away for a hair under twenty standardised European booze tokens.
My conclusion is that even if there was an earlier reduction in the sugar content of El Dorado 8 well before the label change there has been a further improvement with the change. El Dorado 8 (new maroon label) is better than ever and is a stellar mixing rum of superb value which I award an:
While the older black label version is likely not going to be kicking around for much longer it is still a serviceable rum worthy of an A-
*It is on some Caribbean islands including Jamaica, Cuba and Barbados but even those regulations don’t necessarily align with each other.