When is a distillery NOT a distillery?

Speaking as a rum drinker, taster, enthusiast, crazy person…..call me what you like in this regards, if I get the chance to try a new rum, I jump at the chance. This counts double when the chance to go and visit an actual distillery is offered as not only do you get to try the rums, but also meet the people behind the rum, see the methods and learn about what goes into it. Well, that was my experience in Jamaica upon completing my pilgrimage to the Appleton distillery on a couple of occasions, but it certainly was not the case when I visited the town of Arucas to see the Arehucas distillery or Destilerias Arehucas to give it its full Spanish title in the beautiful island of Gran Canaria.

Arehucas is in the north of Gran Canaria, one of the Canary Islands, described by Arehucas’ web site as “The Cradle of Rum, Arehucas Rum is made from the finest sugar cane.” I’m not sure how Caribbean nations would react to such a statement and after visiting, I certainly do not know how they can actually prove this!
Rum production at Arehucas has taken place for “over 125 years” so one would expect they know what they are doing. Delving deeper into their web site, they boldly claim “The rums are matured in Arehucas’ world renowned 100 year old Rum Cellar, containing more than 6,000 American oak casks. These 200 or 400 litre casks either contain a range of Rums, Spirits and Liqueurs of varying age. The Arehucas Golden Rums mature for 1 year, 7 years and 12 years, up to a maximum of 20 years. The most important cask in the cellar is signed by the current King and Queen of Spain. Destilerias Arehucas has the grand title of Royal House Supplier. The lifetime service was granted by Queen Maria Cristina of Austria on 4th July 1892.” Arehucas claims to be a rum of the highest quality and integrity with a history to match.

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The view from Arehucas distillery

So with this in mind, one sunny morning I set off driving with my father-in-law for the one hour journey to Arehucas from our beach-resort in the south-west of the small island. As is often the case in the Canary Islands, once you get away from the beaches and go inland, the scenery can be truly stunning and Gran Canaria is just that…..

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Welcome to Arehucas

Upon arriving, there is a very small car park. After finding a spot, we walked to the entrance and encountered a very Spanish way of presenting something…laid back, no-one really bothering about what you are doing. In our very un-Spanish, British way, we sought some information and were told that the next free-tour in English would be going in about ten minutes. DSC_2121.JPG

 

There is a small courtyard to walk around with a room decorated with posters and bottles and it is in here that we waited for our tour to start.

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Arehucas Waiting Room: Bottle Display

 

The selection of bottles on display range from their liquors and cream-based drinks (bottom shelves), to their honey rums and basic offerings (middle shelf). Second shelf from the top has their aged rums (7, 12yo etc.) and on the top shelf is their finest top-of-the-range offering, The Capitán Kidd, aged 20 years in this example (My Review here).

After the ten minute wait, our tour guide arrived who spoke very poor English. To be fair, it is better than my Spanish, but I am not presenting a tour of my products in different languages.
She spoke briefly about the history, quoting the web site almost word-for-word and then escorted us to the ageing warehouse.
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She highlighted that visiting dignitaries and celebrities are invited to sign barrels in the warehouse.

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Middle right (above) is Julio Iglesias

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At this point, the guide had us interested. Real barrels ageing, evoking nostalgic ideas about the history of rum production and ageing here. So, now we were looking forward to seeing the stills (column? pot?) and wash etc. and learning about how it was made.
Instead, we went onto the bottling plant next door and saw a commercial production line of 12,000-18,000 bottles per hour and were told how impressive it is (see below).
DSC_2132.JPGOK, fair enough, you have to put the rum into a bottle, so yes, it is interesting to see it, albeit we could have been at Coca Cola at this point. We walked past a room with a small window in it. When I say small, I mean something like 20cm x 20cm (8″ x 8″) and were told that we could not go into this room as it “is where the still is”. Oh dear!
DSC_2131.JPGI took this photo (above) through the window, which revealed huge steel vats. No sign of a still yet though…..you can see where this is leading!
OK, so we’ve seen the ageing warehouse, the bottling plant and the storage vats, so now surely, we are going to see where the rum is produced and learn about it. WRONG!
The final stop of the tour is the tasting bar and shop (below)!
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Our tour guide proceeded to pour plastic thimble tasters of creamy liquors and told us how nice they were. I declined! She then offered honey rum. I had a small taste, but I do not really like honey rum. She then offered the 12yo (Ron Anejo Reserva Especial) and told us how good it is. Putting my rum-knowledge hat on for a moment, I tried to ask a couple of questions…..Is all of the rum in a bottle of the 12yo aged for 12years? Is it a minimum, maximum or average age statement? Do you use a Solera system? Is it a pot or column still? The guide looked back at me in a very perplexed way (think Manuel from Fawlty Towers) shrugged and said “yes!!!” This confirmed what I think we already knew, which is that quality and honest age-statements are not part of the set up here. We do not even know if it is made from molasses or cane juice and I don’t think I would have got an answer even if I asked. Her final act for the tour was to tell us we are not allowed to taste the Capitán Kidd rum (My Review here), whereby she moved to an adjacent room (the shop), plonked herself down at the cash register and waited for the money to roll in.

OK, so without knowing much about it, I still bought a bottle of the [now] 30yo Capitán Kidd (My Review here) and the 12yo Reserva Especial for “research and curiosity” purposes. Prior to visiting I had read that the cheapest place on the island to buy Arehucas is the distillery and I can confirm I have not seen it for sale cheaper elsewhere (on Gran Canaria), including the duty free at the airport. In December 2015, the 12yo was €17 and The Capitán Kidd was €95.50.

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Amagoldi.com Sugar

There was one final sting in the tail of the tour. Outside the shop in the courtyard area, where another bunch of suckers, sorry visitors, were waiting, there was a flatbed truck with, yes you guessed it…..pallet loads of sugar from amagoldi.com on board! Grrrrrrrrrr!

Upon my return to England, I have searched for info regarding the distillery in Gran Canaria and have found various spurious tails surrounding it. One person on Trip Advisor has said that the rum is distilled in South Africa and Gran Canaria is merely a bottling plant and warehouse – this would concur with what I saw (or rather didn’t see). Another web site confirms this stating that the distillation rooms that I saw through the tiny glass windows hold 700,000 litres where it is merely “stored.”

Overall, I do not think that the rum produced here is anything other than ethanol, which is produced from an industrial column still with sugar, caramel and glycerine added post-ageing, along with likely questionable age-statements – 12yo means that the absolute maximum time any of the rum has aged is 12 years and probably in a Solera system, too. If sweet liquors and honey rum are your thing and you know absolutely nothing about rum and how it is made, you will enjoy Arehucas and to be fair, admission is free. Likewise, if you want to buy their rum, it is cheaper here than elsewhere.
Otherwise, I think I would steer clear!

Despite all this, we did enjoy our trip, both from a learning perspective, viewing the huge ageing warehouse and also to see the beautiful scenery of Gran Canaria. We would not return again, which says it all and I am very unlikely to buy any more Arehucas rum now that I know how it is produced.

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The Arehucas Range

My Review of Capitán Kidd here

Find more info at Arehucas web site.

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