Minimalist Tiki

REVIEW: El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend could be a mixologist’s secret weapon

I’m honored to have been chosen as a “rum influencer” of high enough stature to receive an unsolicited bottle of El Dorado’s new High Ester Blend (LBI / DHE). For non-geeks, those acronyms stand for “La Bonne Intention / Diamond High Ester,” signifying that this is a blend of never-before-released “high ester” marques from two unique stills at Guyana’s Diamond Distillery.

Specifically, we’re taking about high-ester distillate from the John Dore Double Retort Copper Pot Still and the La Bonne Intention marque from the four-column metal French Savalle Still. The former still dates back to the 1950s and is the only one of its kind at the historic distillery. The latter is much older, inherited from another distillery in Guyana that operated as far back as the 1800s.

El Dorado High Ester Blend includes rums from two unique stills at Guyana's Diamond Distillery.
El Dorado High Ester Blend includes rums from two unique stills at Guyana’s Diamond Distillery.

A side note here that the Diamond distillery and El Dorado share ownership (Demerara Distillers Ltd., aka DDL), so this release can be seen as El Dorado throwing its hat into the ring that independent bottlers have long dominated but has just recently gained at lot of traction in rum enthusiast circles: High-proof, high-ester, uncompromising rums with a pedigree. Rums from Jamaica, known for its “high-ester funk bombs,” have been most notable in this category.

This rum clocks in at a cask strength 57% ABV (114 proof), well above El Dorado’s normal (and industry standard) 40%, which I heartily applaud. It’s a different animal than El Dorado’s flagship aged rums (the 8-, 12- and 15-year-old blends) as well as the dark but lightly aged 151-proof rums (from Diamond, Hamilton, Lemon Hart, et al.) that are essential bottles in our Tiki arsenal. Just not as far removed as you might think. More on that shortly.

The bottle says it was distilled in 2012, which means it likely spent around 12 years in ex-Bourbon casks in Diamond’s aging warehouse. Indeed, the color as very similar to El Dorado 12. The nose, however, is another matter. The flavors are much deeper, with heady aromas of vanilla, toffee and honey most noticeable to my admittedly unsophisticated olfactory senses. There were some subtle cinnamon and fruit aromas as well.

At first sip, I immediately noticed the orange peel and spices prevalent in the blend, as advertised. Sweet vanilla is present, along with slight hints of chocolate and caramel. The spicy finish starts strong before fading slowly, perhaps the best feature of a neat sip.

A small cube of ice makes the initial sip less nuanced and complex, but perhaps easier to handle for novices. The dilution and chill factors create a less intense experience, so I’d recommend experienced drinkers stick to a neat pour.

Modern Caribbean Rum
A neat sip of El Dorado High Ester Blend in The Atomic Grog, February 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
A neat sip of El Dorado High Ester Blend in The Atomic Grog, February 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Even so, you’re still not going to get a pungent “high-ester flavor bomb” on par with Jamaican rums. The intensity of flavor is similar, but this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. The time spent in the barrel, as well as El Dorado’s signature blending methods, make for a more accessible sip.

But this is still a huge step up from those standard El Dorado releases. Tasting the 12- and 15-year rums right after enjoying this new blend was eye-opening. They seemed watered-down and sweet compared to the complex and dry LBI / DHE blend.

The other obvious comparison to make is a recent Hamilton Single Cask Strength Guyanese Rum release. Importer Ed Hamilton sourced this bottling from Liverpool’s Main Rum Company, which buys unique marques from Diamond and many other distilleries, aging and reselling them to the secondary market.

The release I have on hand is a 7-year-old rum from Diamond, distilled in 2014 and bottled in 2021 at 125 proof. Most notably, it’s sourced from the Savalle still, though the marque is different (MDLB). Clearly, this is a more rich and intense product, grassier and more pungent, though it still can be sipped and enjoyed for what it is. I’m guessing the ester count is the same if not higher.

If I were to sit and enjoy a small neat sip, perhaps with a bite of chocolate, I would probably still reach for the Hamilton release. But there’s a lot to be said for the wider reach and availability of El Dorado’s new blend. I haven’t spotted it on store shelves yet, but I hope the suggested retail price will make it just as affordable as the single-cask release, which I picked up for around $75. Something in the $99 range would be acceptable.

El Dorado High Ester Blend can be featured in potent Tiki cocktails, such as the Demerara Swizzle. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
El Dorado High Ester Blend can be featured in potent Tiki cocktails, such as the Demerara Swizzle. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

I would be doing this rum a disservice, however, if I didn’t delve into what I found to be its hidden talent. As you may note from just a cursory browsing of this blog, I’m a Tiki cocktail aficionado first foremost. A sip of rum is nice, but tropical drinks are where my true passion lies.

As such, I had to put the new El Dorado rum to the test in multiple cocktails, even though it may not be intended for such purposes. In my opinion, nearly all rums from Guyana work great in Tiki cocktails. They just can’t help themselves. The flavor profile is tailor-made for many classics, such as those created by Don the Beachcomber and kept alive at institutions such as The Mai-Kai.

My first attempt at a cocktail was actually a rum Old Fashioned, but I would not particularly recommend this, for the same reasons I wasn’t crazy about sipping the rum on a rock. The ice and dilution mellow out the rum too much, muting the flavors, in my opinion.

However, the three classic Tiki drinks I tried featuring El Dorado’s High Ester Blend were all great, leading to my endorsement of this rum as worth the purchase if you’re looking to jazz up your classic Tiki cocktail arsenal, price point be damned.

Demerara Swizzle – Rather than make the classic 151 Swizzle, I went with this riff by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry of Latitude 29 in New Orleans that he served at The Hukilau 2015 as the Demerara 80 Swizzle, subbing the 151 with El Dorado 8. I followed my tribute recipe, replacing the 1 3/4 ounces of ED 8 with the LBI / DHE blend. The results were fantastic. It’s more sophisticated but nearly as powerful as the 151 version. The rum’s fruit and spice notes shine through the syrups and lime, providing the prefect accompaniment.

The classic Demerara Cocktail and Demerara Float are both great vehicles for the new El Dorado High Ester Blend. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)
The classic Demerara Cocktail and Demerara Float are both great vehicles for the new El Dorado High Ester Blend. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward, March 2024)

Demerara Cocktail – A key feature of Demerara rums is how well they mix with Jamaican rums, a practice pioneered some 90 years ago by Donn Beach in the Zombie, Navy Grog, and many other classics. My choice was the more simple Demerara Cocktail, using my recipe that pays tribute to the version created for The Mai-Kai by Don the Beachcomber alum Mariano Licudine. I used 1 ounce of El Dorado and 1 ounce of a not-too-heavy Jamaican rum (80 proof Appleton Estate Signature Blend). The result is a stellar sip, more rummy and flavorful than a standard Demerara Cocktail. The High Ester Blend punches through and amps up this classic nicely.

Demerara Float – This is another Don the Beachcomber classic that features multiple versions, so I again opted for another Mai-Kai tribute recipe. It features 1 1/2 ounces of lightly aged, blended Jamaican rum (Appleton Signature again) and a 1-ounce float of Demerara rum. The Mai-Kai uses Hamilton 86, so the new El Dorado is a step up flavorwise, making for a more rum-forward yet still easy-to-drink cocktail.

While probably not intentional, it turns out that El Dorado’s High Ester Blend works best as a premium mixing rum. It even makes an excellent high-octane classic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai paired with Worthy Park 109 from Jamaica.

The LBI / DHE bottling is promoted as the first in a series of nine expressions, so stay tuned for more unique offerings from El Dorado and Diamond’s many historic stills.
* El Dorado official website | Facebook | Instagram

To learn more about Guyana and the Diamond Distillery, as well as the science behind high-ester rums, pick up Modern Caribbean Rum from Wonk Press. It’s the definitive resource for all inquisitive and discerning rum drinkers.

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FROM THE ATOMIC GROG ARCHIVE

Demerara Rum: The Mai-Kai's Secret Weapon on Jan. 19, 2019, at The Mai-Kai
Demerara Rum – The Mai-Kai’s Secret Weapon

The Atomic Grog was pleased to present a special happy-hour talk during The Mai-Kai Takeover event in January 2019.

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