Part one of this series on Peruvian spirits focused on how pisco has evolved over the last 20 years. In this second and final part, we take a look at how one brand of rum from Peru is quickly gaining regard as world-class producer.
Peruvian rum doesn’t get much recognition. Take, for example, Gayot’s list of Top 10 Sipping Rums. There are rums from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Guatemala—even Guyana—but not one Peruvian rum.
Things are slowly changing, thanks to both passionate advocates and higher-quality products. Jim and Carole Driscoll own Ekeko Fine Wines & Spirits, a Houston-based importer that is the only one specializing in products from Peru. The Driscolls fell in love with the country: people, food and drink alike.
“We wanted to bring to the U.S. a whole new world,” explained Carole. “Most people here don’t know about Peruvian wine and spirits. The first South American wine grapes were planted in the Inca Valley. Peru had some major geopolitical problems so Argentina and Chile got ahead of the curve. Peru is finally now getting to do the same thing.”
In some ways, Peru is ideally set up for rum production. It doesn’t get much rain. Farmers have to irrigate the sugar cane fields so they are able to control how much water the plants get. They carefully dole out the water so the plants have to struggle somewhat. Struggle means the sugars get concentrated within the plant.
The extracted juice is boiled down into a dark, rich molasses. Even “silver” rum has to be filtered through carbon platters to remove the color from the dark molasses. (Some rums made in other countries are actually taken in the other direction. Caramel color is added to produce a “golden” rum.)
Cartavio is one brand of rum that is helping change the image of Peruvian spirits. The company was founded way back in 1929 but its products didn’t start getting exported to the United States until much later. This year, three Cartavio rums from Peru medaled in the Extra Aged category at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. The Selecto took a silver medal, as did the XO. Most impressively, the Cartavio Solera took a gold medal.
It’s not the only competition in 2015 in which the brand made a good showing. The XO took Best In Class Gold for the Premium Rum Category at the Miami Rum Renaissance Expert Panel alongside some of the more well-known spirits like Plantation 20th Anniversary and Brugal 1888. Additionally, in the five-to-eight year aged category, the Cartavio 5 also won gold.
According to Pablo Valqui, the sales manager for Barb Distribution, Cartavio XO only exists due an unexpected find at the production facility. It was a stash of 30- or 40-year-old barrels that went forgotten and unrecorded. At one point, Cartavio was a government-owned facility, so the hypothesis is that those barrels were reserved for generals and other high-ranking officers in the military.
Cartavio uses a Solera system, which allows from blending of rums that are different ages and from different types of barrels. Barrels of various origins—those used for aging bourbon or port, for example—are filled and stacked vertically in racks. The older barrels get shuffled down while the younger ones stay towards the top. The rum is blended from various barrels to achieve a certain flavor profile and the age stamped on the label indicates the oldest barrel used.
Valqui used to be the fine foods buyer at Spec’s but he also had opportunity to try many different spirits. He’s a strong believer in Peruvian rum. “I now can stand behind these products and say, ‘I have tried a lot of wines. I have tried a lot of spirits. I have tried a lot of rums and I can tell you that the quality of these products are completely competitive,” says Valqui.
The best way to see if Valqui is right is to try a Peruvian rum for yourself. Bartender Chris Frankel of Spare Key bar in Midtown contributed a recipe to start with (that also happens to include the plum-favored pisco we raved about in our prior article on Peruvian spirits):
1.5 ounce Cartavio Blanco rum
.5 ounce Santiago Quierolo Masco pisco
.75 ounce fresh lime juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup (made with two parts sugar to one part water)
Build in a mixing glass or shaker tin, add ice and shake until cold. Fine strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with a lime wedge.