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Ron Matusalum Gran Reserva 18 Rum

Review: Ron Matusalum Gran Reserva 18 Rum   (91 pts)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
July 30, 2013

Ron Matusalem prides itself on being a Cuban style of rum with a history in Cuba they trace back to 1872 when two brothers, Benjamin and Eduardo Camp, together with a partner, Evaristo Álvarez opened a distillery in Santiago de Cuba. According to the information I found last April on the Matusalem website, the rum they were producing began to win acclaim by the first quarter of the 20th century. The distillery apparently operated until the 1960′s when due to the Cuban Revolution the Álvarez family was exiled, and the rum they made disappeared from the landscape.

The brand was resurrected by Claudio Álvarez Salazar, who is the great-grandson of Evaristo Álvarez. Of course, it was not possible, given the political situation in Cuba, for Claudio to produce or bottle the rum in Cuba. Apparently, it is produced (presumably by a third-party as Ron Matusalem does not own a distillery) in the Dominican Republic, and then bottled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana by Proximo Spirits.

(Proximo Spirits is a privately owned, spirits importer based in Jersey City, New Jersey. In five short years they have grown their portfolio quickly and now represent premium brands in all several major distilled spirits categories including Vodka, Whiskey, Tequila and of course Rum. The most premium brand of rum which the company represents is Ron Matusalem.)

The subject of this review, Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 18 is not an 18-year-old rum as many people believe, rather it is aged according to what the Matusalem company calls a solera aging process which is described on their website as follows:

The Solera aging system is a cascading process where slightly younger rums are blended with slightly older rums. Stored in oak casks, the aged rum are stacked in different levels. The oldest distilled rum is housed on the lowest levels. Newer rums are put into the higher levels so that the youngest is on top. As the rum is pulled from the lowest Solera barrels for bottling, it is replaced with rum from the levels just above. This process is repeated with the remaining levels, though no more than one-third of each cask can be drawn off every three months. This marrying of old and new softens the fiery younger rum and provides it with a refined smoothness and flavor not found in ordinary rums. A 15-year Solera or a 10-year Solera is an average of the blended years. Our Matusalem rums are Solera blended and are a blend of aged rums that average a year’s designation.

According to this statement, the average age of the rums (not the minimum age) which make up the Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 18 Solera Blender is 18 years.

SAM_0863In the Bottle 4.5/5

The sample bottle shown to the right was provided to my by The Kirkwood Group who are the local distributors/importers of Ron Matusalem Rum. As you can see the bottle is very similar to the bottle design of the previously reviewed Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15.

As with the Gran Reserva 15, I have a couple of quibbles with respect to the presentation of the Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 18 which prevents a perfect score. The first quibble is with respect to the statement on the label which reads Formula Original de Cuba. This statement leads many people to believe that this is an authentic Cuban rum produced in Cuba. In fact, I have had many fruitless arguments with persons who point to that statement as proof of that particular point of view. Although the back label explains that the rum is now crafted in the Dominican Republic, it is apparent that many people never read the back label.

The second quibble is the symbol above and below the main label proudly proclaiming Solera 18 Blender. Again many people confuse this statement as meaning the rum is a 18-year-old spirit with the youngest rum in the blend being 18 years. The truth is, that we do not know the age of the youngest rum in the blend. I have seen some websites which claim the youngest rum in the blend is as young as 7 years, and others that claim it is closer to 12.

In the Glass 9/10

When I pour a bit of  the rum into my glencairn glass, the first thing I notice is the rich amber/copper colour of the spirit. The colour is darker and richer than I expected based upon the Gran Reserva 15 which had quite a pale colour. When I tilt my glass and give it a swirl, I see that the spirit is medium bodied, and the crest of rum lays down thickened legs which travel at a leisurely pace down the inside of my glass. The initial aroma carries a nice mixed aroma of caramel, oakspice and vanilla. The rich scent is complimented by dabs of marmalade and banana. As the glass sits, the oak spices build in the air, and the rum scents in the air are enriched by added impression of maple toffee, hints of cinnamon and cloves, some pipe tobacco and perhaps a bit of roasted walnut as well.

In the Mouth 55/60

The rum demands only a little attention from you as it reveals it flavour. I taste bitter-sweet caramel turning to treacle in my mouth with a light layer of vanilla keeping the rum smooth. A somewhat peppery, somewhat pungent oak spice is apparent which brings impressions of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon to the fore with just a touch of spicy wood sap melded in. There are hints of maple syrup, touches of orange peel and marmalade, and a lovely underlying flavour of toasted walnuts and coconuts. This is the type of rum which you can sit comfortably in and old leather chair and just sip on it as you enjoy your evening.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The ending is perhaps just a touch bitter with the flavours of treacle and roasted walnut having more say than the vanilla and caramel. Oak spice leaves glowing flavours of nutmeg and cloves (with just a hint of cinnamon) resting on the palate and touching the back of the throat, and the effect is to dry the mouth slightly making the mouth receptive to another sip.

The Afterburn 9/10

When I tasted this rum for the first time it was in Miami at a party hosted by Ron Matusalem. I was serving as a Rum Judge at the big Festival, and perhaps I had consumed more than enough rum for one day at that point. I say this because I remember being unimpressed. Now either the blend has changed significantly in the last three years (not likely) or my palate was completely compromised by that time in the evening (over one hundred rums sampled in three days… yeah it’s likely I was compromised). What I tasted this time around was a much richer rum with a full and balanced flavour profile. This is a relaxing rum with just enough nuance to keep the glass interesting as you sip, but restrained enough that the sipping experience never becomes demanding.

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

Suggested Recipe:

Ron Matusalem Rum Old fashioned Rum Old Fashioned

2 oz Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 18
1 tsp simple syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Fees Cocktail Bitters)
3 large ice cubes
1 twist of orange peel

Add the first three ingredients to a rocks glass over the ice cubes
Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the orange zest into the drink)
Drop the peel into the cocktail if desired.

Please Enjoy Responsibly!


You may (loosely) interpret the scores 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)


One Response to “Ron Matusalum Gran Reserva 18 Rum”

  1. Alex Tuttle said

    Great review of the history of this brand. The age designation (although we are unsure of the age of the liquid) alone sets this as a sipping rum. Very heavy aging gives this a vanilla sweetness with an oak kick. Very well balanced with a delightful finish of what was said above nutmeg, cinnamon and citrus finish. Love this site by the way…

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