More than a century ago, Don José Varela established a sugar mill plant in Panama. In 1936, his family began distilling alcohol from the sugar cane. Today, the third generation of the Varela family has more than 2,000 acres of land used to cultivate sugar cane to produce Panamanian spirits.
Wine lovers get to enjoy verticals, in which different vintages of the same wine from the same winery are sampled and compared. For spirit drinkers, the equivalent is tasting a range of a distiller’s product which has been aged for different periods of time. For example, a tequila maker may release a blanco, reposado and añejo version. While añejo refers to the oldest release for a tequila maker (although some designate a premium super-añejo), that appellation is applied to the youngest of the 80-proof rums we sampled from Ron Abuelo.
Ron Abuelo Añejo Reserva Especial is surprisingly smooth for its price and has good viscosity. It offers strong flavors of brown sugar and caramel. The inexpensive import is a blend of rums that have been aged at least five years in American oak casks. It can be enjoyed in mixed drinks, like the Abuelo Sparkler below, but we prefer its older brothers for sipping.
Ron Abuelo 7 Años Reserva Superior is medium-bodied and smooth after aging at least seven years. It offers a lot of vanilla on the palate, but it's not very sweet. There is a satisfying slight burn at the finish.
Ron Abuelo 12 Años Gran Reserva has the darkest color of the three, being the blend of rums aged at least a dozen years in American oak casks. As expected, it is fuller-bodied, and more complex than its younger siblings. Its layered flavors play on the tongue, followed by a sweet, lingering finish like a kiss on the dance floor when the slow song ends.