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El Dorado 12 Year Old Special Reserve

Review: El Dorado 12 Year Old Special Reserve Rum (93.5pts)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Revised November, 2012

Demerara County (in Guyana) is popular across the world for its rich, three hundred year history of rum production. Using a combination of old wooden stills in conjunction with modern stills and distilling techniques, Demerara Distillers Ltd. (DDL) has built a reputation for outstanding quality and consistent production. In fact, Demerara Distillers is the currently the largest supplier of bulk Caribbean rums to Europe and North America.

The El Dorado 12 Year Old Special Reserve Rum is blended from aged stocks (the youngest being no less than 12 years old) from the original Wooden Enmore Coffey still, the original metal Diamond Coffey still, as well as from the ancient Port Mourant double wooden pot still which was used to produce ‘navy’ rum for the English Admiralty. All of the Demerara Rum produced by El Dorado is aged exclusively in American oak (bourbon barrels).

El Dorado 12 Year OldIn The Bottle 5/5

The presentation for the 12 yr, the 15 yr and the 21 yr old El Dorado Rums includes a squat smokey opaque brown bottle which has a funky old world charm and which looks great on my rum shelf.  I like the fact that each rum in the series arrives in a smartly coloured display box which helps to protect the spirit from the deleterious effects of light. Finally each is closed with a quality cork topper which for me is the final requirement for a quality presentation.

In the Glass  9.5/10

This really is a great rum to nose in the glass. Oak and wood spices provide a nice backdrop for the sweet baking spices (vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) and rich molasses that rises into the breezes above the glass. There are hints of spicy orange peel, and fresh citrus fruit which appear and disappear within the aroma, and I have a hard time finding fault. All of theses scents and smells deepen as the glass sits. I smell rich tobacco, marzipan and hints of marmalade which have all evolved as the rum breathes. I am tempted to give a perfect score.

In My mouth 56/60

This rum enters my mouth with a spicy sweet baking spice explosion. Deep dark brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and hints of orange peel and citrus fruit lay upon a foundation of oak and wood spices. Rich tobacco accents the flavour and some luscious dark fruit (dates and raisins) finds its way into the flavour profile. The overall flavour is sweet but not overwhelmingly so, and a soft nuttiness lies under the other flavours giving the rum just a hint of bitterness which offsets that sweetness nicely.

What I truly love about this rum is how I seem to like it just a little more every time I pour another glass. The flavours remain rich and strong but never cloying.

In My Throat 14/15

This has a long spicy finish which leaves the mouth and throat heated. The spicy oak, and baking spices last and last in the mouth and throat in a marvelous combination.

The Afterburn 9/10

I have tried this rum in different settings and in a few cocktails, and it pleases me almost completely every time. I find that the sweetness of the rum is perfectly balanced with the spicy oakiness and I also appreciate that the flavour of the El Dorado 12 Year Old remains robust and complex yet very approachable.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.


Suggested Cocktail

The El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum can and should be sipped neat or with ice. Having said that, there is no reason not to enjoy the spirit in wonderful cocktails as well. Cocktails which I found that enhanced my experience with the rum were ones which used a foil spirit like Amaretto or Grand Marnier to offset the spicy oak of the El Dorado 12 year Old. Here are a few Recipes:

The El Padrino
(Spanish for Godfather)

2 oz      El Dorado 12 Year Rum
1 oz       Amaretto
1/8 oz  Fresh Lemon Juice

Build on ice in small rocks glass
Garnish with a thin slice of lemon.

Note: The name El Padrino fits perfectly as a premium aged oaky rums  such as El Dorado 12 may truly be called the Godfather of Rums!


In order to bring this cocktail to the level of quality I was seeking, I used the most excellent Louis Alexandre Grand Marnier in conjunction with the El Dorado 12 Year.

The Royal Batiste

1 1/2 oz   El Dorado 12 Year Rum
1/2 oz       Louis Alexandre Grand Marnier

Build in a cocktail Glass on one Large Ice Cube


Note: If  you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!


My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


21 Responses to “El Dorado 12 Year Old Special Reserve”

  1. Dan said

    After trying and totally enjoying the El Dorado 21, I bought a bottle of El Dorado 12 hoping I’d find some of the taste and quality repeated. It has become my sipping rum.

  2. I love the El Dorado 12, but have you tried their 8 year? I would be interested in where you would put this in their line.

  3. Creepy Dude said

    I just bought a 12-year old El Dorado rum and it’s not “Special Reserve” anymore. Otherwise bottle looks identical. Should I return it before opening? Thanks!

  4. David Wallace said

    I always assumed that I would like the 15 year old, more expensive bottle, better than the 12. But not so. The 15 was wonderful but the 12 even better. I’ve been interested to see that I am not alone in this opinion. I don’t buy this often because it is at the top end of my budget but it is always spectacular. (I’m impressed that you have the restraint to “only” accord it 93.5 points. Now I have a personal mission to try the few rums that bested it!

  5. Barrett's Lost said

    Greetings Chip…I most thoroughly enjoy your reviews and use them as the sole basis for my spirit purchases – please continue with your obvious passion and forte. As someone with an enviable standing in the industry, perhaps you can shed some light on a late observation of mine, and put my mind to rest. Several years ago many of the rums (and other lesser spirits) that you so eloquently review were available solely from “high end” boutique shops in my environs of Calgary. Lately however, I have noticed that many of these formerly “signature” rums are now on offer at many chain or “mid range” stores at lower and often discounted or “sale” prices. While I applaud the industry for ramping up to meet an obvious demand, and the shops for making these heavenly nectars readily available, I question whether the products have maintained the stringent quality control and true aging & blending standards that make these rums so unique, desirable, and delectably different.
    To put it quite bluntly, is the 750 mL bottle of El Dorado Special Reserve that I purchased today for $24.98 (with a 50 mL bonus of El Dorado 15 Y.O.) of the same quality and nature as the bottle I purchased 3 years ago from a boutique shop for a significantly higher price? Would the product I purchased today be scored at the same 93.5 that you originally assigned to this quite exquisite rum, or has wider and ready availability been achieved at the sacrifice of quality and standard?
    I look forward to your reply…and once again thank you for your devotion to the true appreciation and understanding of Nelson’s Blood…

    As always, may we all have Royal occasion to “Splice the Mainbrace”

    • El Dorado Rum has recently seen new distributorship here in Alberta. The new distributor is Highwood Distillers. They have a broader network than the previous distributor and have been able to place the El Dorado Rum into a larger number of stores.

      More distribution means lower prices!

      I believe the quality has been maintained (at least based upon the last bottle of El Dorado 12 that I tasted anyways).

      • Barrett's Lost said

        Many thanks for the very prompt and succinct reply Chip…your answer certainly allays my fears. I do concur that even to my plebeian taste buds all the Demerera rums taste like Elixirs of the Gods – whether purchased today or years ago – but then I do have a special bond to Guyana .
        Thanks again and please continue the great reviews…

    • xDeginiX said

      Where did you find it for $25?

  6. D said

    I guess the 21 has punch…meant to say I prefer the 12 yo

  7. D said

    I would like to say, as I sit I am tasting El Dorado 21 that is very nice but I prefer the 12, Appleton 21 was my top choice until I stumbled upon El Dorado 12. This has nothing to do with cost, I think if they were on a 1-1 cost I wild still chose the 21. I have tasted most of the Rhums and have found a hands down winner..

    FYI , I am going out to find and purchase all I can find before El Dorado realizing they are under valued. Ha

  8. Matt said

    It was recommended that I try one of the El Dorado line of age-stated rums. But up until recently no retailer in my area carried any of these fine rums. But the other day I happened to find the 12 and 15-year El Dorado rums at a local retailer! I was torn on which one to purchase and eventually decided to try the 12-year first. This is truly wonderful stuff. My only other experience with “premium” rum is Pampero Aniversario (which I enjoy quite a bit). However, this El Dorado 12-year is very very good. So much so that I plan on returning to purchase the 15-year. I found your review(s) while searching for information on El Dorado rums. Thanks for your great reviews!

  9. Doug Ford said

    Over time, I’ve found myself increasingly attracted to demerara rums, and El Dorado 12 seems to be the one that most often is on the shelf, at that sweet spot where what I like and what I can afford intersect. In fact, it has become my bride’s rum of choice for Daiquiris—not a traditional choice, that, but a flavorful one.

    (…and speaking of flavor: marzipan—I don’t think I would ever have identified that… )

    • I agree that the Demereras really grow on a person, and I love that your wife uses this rum for her Daiquiri’s. (It’s good to know I am not the only one who uses what other people consider to be top notch sipping rums for cocktails.

      As for the marzipan, I think the almond flavours which one encounters often in aged spirits has a tendency to taste ‘marzipanish’ when melded into nice caramel and oak.


  10. fojo57 said

    thanks, I always try to read your reviews before buying a new bottle of rum. Personally I have to admit I really like El Dorado 12 y.o. it is a perfect mild sipping rum with a lots of character.

    • Your welcome Fojo

      I really like this one as well, as you could tell from my review 😉

      • fojo57 said

        It is funny, there are loads of rum reviews but I always come to yours when deciding on buying a new bottle…actually the only time I was surprised was with Barcelo imperial, personally I would put it around 90, otherwise I mostly agree with your opinion.

        Cheers…now I am just having a glass of Diplomatico Reserva 🙂

  11. Nathan said

    Thank you. Your reviews were helpful.

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