Though I’ll imbibe other brown spirits all year round, and without regard to the season, I’ve always associated rum with sunshine. I only seem to crave the stuff—always in the form of some fruity cocktail topped with an orchid, a pineapple wedge or both—when my toes are buried in the sand. I recently realized what I had been missing when I met the legendary rum blender Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez, and had the chance to taste all three expressions of his first eponymous rum line, Don Pancho Origenes, released in the U.S. in early 2014 by Terlato Wine & Spirits.
Even without being a rum aficionado, I knew of Don Pancho’s reputation as a master in the category: Instrumental in modernizing the Cuban rum industry in the '70s at Havana Club, he later moved to Panama to rebuild a neglected distillery into the celebrated Las Cabras. While he’s blended high-end expressions in Panama under other brand names (including Zafra, Panamonte, Ron De Jeremy, Bohemio and Debonnaire) for years, Origenes, which represents the culmination of over 50 years in the industry, is the first to bear his own. All three bottles in the collection are true age-dated, which means the number of years on the label reflects the youngest rum in the blend. First I tasted the 8 year ($40) shaken into a cocktail that just about blew my mind: the Ocho Cabras, created by Leo Robitschek of Manhattan’s NoMad Hotel. Made with citrus, all spice–spiked pumpkin syrup and Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado Sherry, it’s the perfect, cold weather answer to the sunshine-friendly Hemingway daiquiri. After tasting the rum on its own, I can see why it plays so well with fall flavors: A shimmering amber color, the 8 year has everything you’d expect from a top-notch rum—vanilla, tropical fruit and a nice, hot finish—with an herbal nose, a pleasant sourness and vegetal notes that add complexity and balance.
The 18 year ($90) is dessert in a glass, without being cloying. Burnt brown sugar and banana aromas give way to a lightly oaky, cake-like flavor with lip-smacking fig, plum and maple syrup notes—I’d happily pour it right over pancakes, but it's practically shameful to drink it any way other than straight from the glass. The 30 year ($425) confirmed my hunch that I have been approaching rum drinking from the wrong angle—these are sipping rums with long, rewarding finishes. The 30 year expression is completely different from the 18, and tasted unlike any rum I’ve tried before. Extremely complex with a dry, tannic mouthfeel that gives way to bourbon, tea, lots of wood and aggressive, lingering spice, it’s exactly what you’d want to drink fireside on the chilliest of nights. With only 600 bottles available in the U.S., you’ll be lucky to snag even a taste.
Don Pancho Origenes 8 Year ($40), 18 year ($90), and 30 Year ($425), available at select liquor stores across the U.S.