Thursday, March 17, 2011

What is this Solera Rum Aging Process

Here is the Solera System at Valera Hermano
      The "Solera System" is most prevalent among the Spanish speaking rum producers.    This method allows the quick removal of rough edges from the rum than does the single barrel methods.     The rum in the bottom tier is the Solera, or the eldest of the rum.    All of the rows above are the criadera or the younger rums in the system.     The entire stock of the rums in the Solera system is aged at an over proof level and then cut to the proper strength when bottled.     It is estimated on average that rum spends 6 years in the solera system, but because the "mother rum" never leaves the system, the age is really difficult to assess.

Refilling the top of the la criadera
      How does the system work?     As you can see from the picture, the barrels are stacked on their sides in a pyramid like structure that makes up the solera system.     At the end of a cycle about 50% of the rum is taken out of the solera (bottom row for bottling) and the rum from the next row up is transferred down to the solera filling the void created when the rum was removed for bottling.     Because only half of the rum was removed from the solera, the "mother rum" left behind and the rum transferred down from the criadera blend together and the characteristics of the "mother rum" are quickly transferred to the younger rum and the maturity is attained much quicker that if the rum was aged from scratch in a single barrel.    This process is continued all the way to the top of the criadera where new product is added and the cycle begins again.

    The solera system  represents several years of rum production and is a valuable asset of the company.     This is why you see several parallel soleras systems sitting side by side in the bodega.     There are many years of aging involved in making great rum, and the solera is a great way to shorten the actual aging of the rums and allowing  the rum producer to get the rum to market sooner.     Because some of the "mother rum" never leaves the solera, the actual age of the rum can not be published, but the effeciency of the system leaves no doubt that the rum is on a par with rums that have spent much more time in single barrels.

Barrel Proof sitting on the "Solera"
      "La Crianza" or the nursery of the "Mother Rum" is where the majority of the aging or toning of the rum takes place as the rum is moved down the system til it finally reaches the bottom row and is allowed to rest with the "mother rum" before removal for bottling.      Sipping a barrel proof of the mother rum in a solera is an opportunity that should never be missed.      Even at the over proof levels, this rum has a flavor that is almost impossible to describe.  

     Though some rum experts have described the Solera method of aging rum as "cheating", it does shorten the time necessary to mature the rum and the product is still on a par with many of the older single barrel aged rums.     With today's economy, the rum producers need to bring their products to the market sooner, and the solera system allow this without compromising the taste of the rum.     ;o)