Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva is billed as being the “Spirit of Cuba.” The frequent gold medal-winning rum has a long and storied past that stretches back to 19th Century Spain and Cuba.
Founded in 1872, the Matusalem company has been made by the same family for generations. The company originally took root in Santiago de Cuba, where it eventually became one of the most successful Cuban rum producers. Of course, in 1959, Castro’s little revolution upset the apple cart, and Matusalem was forced to leave Cuba for the Dominican Republic. The company currently produces its rum in the city of San Diego in the Dominican Republic.
Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva is a molasses-based rum produced using a formula crafted by Doctor Claudio Alvarez Salazar and other master blenders – all of whom are descended from the original founders of the company. The rum is aged using the solera process for aging spirits, in which barrels containing older spirits are “topped off” and married with younger spirit from other barrels as the angel’s share takes its toll. By the time the rum is bottled, Gran Reserva 15 is a blend of rums which have been aged for an average of 15 years.
Poured into the glass, the rum is a deep, gold color. Sitting perfectly still in the glass it is reminiscent of honey. Giving the glass a swirl reveals legs that are thick, heavy, and slow moving.
The first notes that strike the nose are those of toasted sugar and banana. The nose begins very cool and seems to actually warm as you inhale. A second sniff around the glass finds notes of oak and vanilla – the effect of so many years spent in oak casks. The nose is simply splendid. It is deep, rich, and inviting.
A sip from the glass reveals a sweet, smooth entry. There is a lot of vanilla at the front, followed by toffee and banana notes on the mid-palate. The finish is clean, with just a slight touch of fruitiness, an almost cherry-like flavor combined with faint woody notes.
The body is smooth and silky on the tongue, giving the rum an incredibly pleasant mouth-feel. The entire experience is smooth and rich and there is almost no burn in the throat. This is a rum that can easily be enjoyed neat or with a single ice cube for hours on end. In fact, this is not only one of my favorite sippers, but a rum that I frequently use to convert people to the True Path of Spirits (the rum path).
While the Matusalem Gran Reserva is a wonderful sipping rum, it is not a rum I’d consider so sacrosanct that mixing it would be considered a sin. In fact even the makers of Matusalem would encourage you to try it in a Cuba Libre (in which it is PERFECT) or any one of various other cocktail recipes.
One of my favorite cocktails is the Old Fashioned, which is actually a whiskey cocktail. Of course, I like to shake things up a bit and often make Rum Old Fashioneds – simply substituting rum for the whiskey. Matusalem is usually my rum of choice for this endeavor, but lately I’ve been toying with the recipe a bit to make it something a little more “rummy”.
3 oz Matusalem Gran Reserva 15
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp water (unless using syrup instead of sugar)
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash Peychaud Bitters
1 chunk pineapple
1 lime wheel
In an Old Fashioned glass, add sugar, water (if not using syrup), and bitters. Add fruit and muddle well. Add ice. Add rum and stir, garnish with lemon peel.
This isn’t a vast departure from the basic Old Fashioned (assuming you’re a person that appreciates the “garbage” in your cocktail). I wanted to use fruit that was more frequently associated with rum and the Caribbean, so I went with pineapple and lime. Be sure not to use too much pineapple as it will oversweeten the drink. If you want to use more pineapple, you’ll probably want to drop the sugar/syrup from the mix.
The name comes from the story behind the rum’s own name. Matusalem’s name – so the story goes – comes from the old Spanish saying “mas viejo de Matusalem” or “Older than Methusela”.
The Long & The Short Of It
There is good reason for the avalanche of medals that have been hung around the figurative neck of this fine rum. It is as excellent as it is versatile – one of the few rums that excels in the realms of both sipping and mixing. When you consider that Gran Reserva retails for around $35 in the US, it becomes an absolute “must-have” for any rum or cocktail enthusiast.
Dood’s Rating: 4 Barrels of Rum Out of 5
For another perspective on Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, be sure to check out Silvio’s review at Refined Vices