Mar 262013
 

 

An excellent Cuban rum: it starts out low-tier, and then the taste just blows your ears back. I could take it neat or with just a smidgen of something else, but alone or in company, it’s a worthy first step into the products of this company and its older siblings.

First posted 26 March 2011 on Liquorature

(#071. 80.5/100)

***

I think of this particular iteration of Havana Club as a starter rum.  No, not a starter for your evening, an apertif, or getting the girl (I like your thinking, mind), but as a beginning for the entire line of enormously palatable rums coming out of Cuba.  I’m not entirely won over by styling some rums of a particular kind as Cuban rums, though I understand why the classification exists: I prefer to just take them as they come.  This is the third Havana Club rum I’ve tried, and  I haven’t been let down yet (the Havana Club Barrel Proof in particular is just yummy, believe me).

Some history here. The Havana Club brand was created by José Arechabala y Sainz (no, not by Bacardi) just after Prohibition ended in the USA, in 1934; even then, the conglomerate founded in 1878 by his father-in-law Jose Arechabala y Aldama was one of the largest in Cuba. Havana Club, along with Bacardi, became one of *the* rums of the world and to some extent pioneered a naissance in the recognition of the spirit in the forties and fifties. Alas, this happy state of affairs was not to last, and after a number of personal tragedies, most of the family left for Spain and the US, with the remainder following after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

By now is there any rum aficionado who doesn’t know that Bacardi has claims to the name of Havana Club? To some extent, this is based on the carelessness of the Arechabala family, who let the trademark name slip into the public domain in 1973 when they failed to pay twenty five bucks and sign some papers to renew it.  Castro, no fool, set up an export company in 1972 and from then until 1993 when Pernod Ricard entered the picture, Havana Club was exported out of Cuba.  Except to the US, of course.  That particular state of affairs is still, half a century later, nowhere near to being settled, which is good for us Canadians, bad for those south of 49.  Anyway, although HC has been registered and trademarked in over 80 countries, it isn’t in the US, and this allowed Bacardi to start its own brand of the same name, which has embroiled the two companies in legal spats ever since, from the US Supreme Court to the WTO (without resolution).

The slim bottle is the same one as the 7 year old, and dark brown.  Sir Maltski remarked the other evening that he hates having bottles which hide the colour of the spirit inside (yes he was referring to whisky, but he and I have both agreed that while the other party in our dispute is sadly miguided, we will accept that one day the light of comprehension will dawn and said prodigal son will be welcomed back into the fold), and I’m beginning to see why.  It’s frustrating not to be able to see on a shelf what colour spirit one is buying.  However, this is a minor point; after I poured into into a glass, it shone that same burnished copper gold as the Barrel Proof I so admired last year.

The nose reminded me a bit of the Legendario – definitely with its own character, however.  It was flowery, with barely any molasses or caramel flavour to be detected at all…that came later once it had opened up a shade. Phenols wound in and around the scent, and so it failed on that level for me, since medicinal tastes aren’t really my thing – but, like the Legendario, it had that intriguing musky sweetness of grapes also.  Much less, however: what was overkill on the Legendario was just right here.  Yes it was sharp as well, and since I have no idea what age of rums went into the blend, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably a mix of rums three years and younger.

This does not disqualify it, however. The nose had its weaknesses, sure: the taste was something else again. It was, for a rum this young: just sweet enough, medium to heavy bodied and smoothly oily beyond my expectations. It lingered on the palate, releasing flavours of coconut, light caramel and cinnamon, perhaps some liquorice, and again, that faint touch of dark grapes. I mean, the thing was voluptuous, quite a different thing from the rather pedestrian schnozz…can you blame me for being enthusiastic?  Wow.  The finish was not overly long, and there was a pleasant heat to linger on, but after a while even that faded, leaving behind a pleasant sweet scent that dissipated more slowly: not the best finish I’ve had, but far from the worst.

The Havana Club Añejo Reserva reminds me of a pretty girl I once dated: I had a real fight to win her disapproving mamma over to my side, but once I did, it was fine from then on.  This HC starts slowly, doesn’t overly impress, then gathers a head of steam and ends the race like a late breaking nag at the five-furlong pole, finishing far ahead of where you might have expected it to.  What a hidden gem this rum is indeed.

 

Mar 242013
 

Havana 7

First posted 19 June 2010 on Liquorature. #024

***

So much of how I remember a drink and rate it, comes from the circumstances in which I sampled it. The woman I was with in that special restaurant when I feigned sophisticated insouciance over an unpronounceable rum.  The Irish pub in Berlin where my brother and I got a little sloshed on some cheap crap tipple at a Rugby World Cup match we watched years ago, the name of which I can never remember, but which tasted so great that I go all soft with the memory long after the laughter has gone. The colour of the sunset on a tropical night in Palm Court with the best friend of my younger years indelibly linked with XM Five year old rum. The way my Newfie squaddie’s kids played with me and discussed gory horror movies as I traded shots with their father and laughed in his kitchen while my son baited his cat. The discovery of the EH5 with the Book Club. And the mild nights on the Okanagen shore where I first tasted this young rum in the company of friends.

That’s how I remember drinks.  Sure the taste and rating and all the technical details come in for discussion (it would hardly be a review without those things), but I like to take a more holistic approach to the essay, and this is why I spend as much time documenting my thinking as I do my actual tasting notes.

As I note on the Barrel Proof variant, Havana Club 7 is a true product of Cuba (made by Pernod-Ricard who own the marque), not the Bacardi family product out of Puerto Rico which is legal to have in the US.  The bottle  is smoky brown with a (to me) boring label, and a cheap metal screw cap (I hate cheap crap, honestly – surely a more secure plastic cap or even a cork could be added without too much additional expense?). The rum itself is lighter than the darker ones I had recently (this is an observation, not a criticism), and has an intriguing density to the liquid which causes it to adhere to the sides of my glass* and trail slowly down.

This being a seven year old rum, I have the effrontery to expect certain basic qualities from it: a medium body, mild oiliness, harsh bite and a medium quick finish (like a kiss from a girl who doesn’t mind snogging you, but doesn’t particularly like you that much either, one might say). Perhaps some casually tossed-in flavours that shyly edge around the bully of the playground, the caramel-toffee taste.  What I got was a pleasant surprise: the feel on the mouth had a mild spirit burn, not a punch in the face or scratch on my neck, but which to some extent underlined the medium body. The first taste is one of light caramel, and a surprisingly mellow sweetness, less than I anticipated: and this must be deliberate because after a few seconds a marvellous fruity flavour developed out of and around that sugar, which I really liked. I think I detected some citrus and raisins (perhaps currants), but they were assertive enough to not be elbowed out of the way by either the light smoke and tannins of the oak ageing, or by the subdued sweetness and caramel – in other words, three distinct flavour profiles come through here, each in excellent balance.

The finish falls somewhat short of the flavour and mouthfeel, which is unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected (even my SDR favourite the EH5 has this problem, so I can’t whinge too loudly) – but it’s not overly harsh and biting either. It’s a good rum, and an excellent mixer – if you can take the burn, then I’d suggest not mixing it at all, but that is just me. A diet or zero coke would probably enhance the body without adding to the sweetness appreciably and that may allow it to go down better, but I was drinking fast that evening, and didn’t bother. I had it mostly with ice.

So what did I think overall? Well, it has a distinctive flavour, and I like an SDR I can take neat (even if I chose later not to do so). The trifecta of light oak, medium sweet and bold fruitiness coming together really well is a good reason to try it out. But one of the reasons I’ll regard this rum with true affection is because in a beautiful house close to the beach on Lake Okanagen last week, lounging in an easy chair on the porch, with the breeze cool but the air still warm and the sky deepening orange, I recall thinking that there are worse things in life than relaxing with one’s wife and good friends, having a casual meandering conversation of no importance, and having a glass of this rum on hand to drink.

*I must make confession here: I’ve given The Last Hippie no end of a hard time about that tasting glass he scandalously pilfered from his daughter’s Barbie collection, but the house I was staying in had one as well…and so I used it, and was amazed at the difference it made to assessing the nose and body. I guess I’ll have to go see Toys R Us and see if they have a matching Ken glass. Score one for the Hippie 🙂

Mar 242013
 

First posted 9th June 2010 on Liquorature. #023

Let’s be clear from the outset, that this is a true Cuban rum, not a product of the Bacardi line which produces a rum under the same name and which it is being litigated against.  The marque was first created in 1878 by Jose Arechabala in Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba.  Some might argue that Fidel had no business nationalizing the company after he took over the country in 1959, but the current crop of rums, produced in a 50:50 partnership with Pernod-Ricard since 1994 suggests that quality has not suffered in the interim (although I so find it amusing to see bourgeois capitalism raising its head in the workers paradise). Unfortunately, the embargo by the US against Cuba has limited the rums’ importation into the States…but we, as Canadians, suffer no such problems or shortages.

As I taste rums from more and more countries – thus far I’ve sampled from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Australia, Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Canada, Scotland, Venezuela, St. Croix, Antigua, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Anguilla – certain characteristics seem to be national in character: Antiguans make a lighter, smoother, sweeter rum, the Jamaicans favour some citrus, the Venezuelans a drier, medium variety, and of course Guyanese make their famed Demerara rums with deep rich bodies.  So I was intrigued what I would find from the Cuban stocks…this was my first sample of one, and in a midlevel price range (~$45 Canadian).

The first thing that struck me was the colour.  One of the reasons I picked this picture to use on the post was because it almost perfectly shows  the gold-bronze colour of the rum when sunlight hits it.  Maybe that has something to do with how it’s made: distilled in used whiskey and bourbon barrels of white oak from the usual molasses, then blended together and aged some more in special casks (whatever that might mean) – this process is not the same as the solera method, since the blend is simply put into a second set of barrels in order to get an additional flavour profile.  The box notes this as the “double barrel” method of maturation.

The nose is more complex than I expected.  Hints of the usual suspects abound, but are well balanced with a certain fruitiness and woodsy flavour I could not precisely pinpoint.  On the tongue I really liked it – I made sniffy noises at the Kraken the other day, for which I’m sure The Last Hippe has not forgiven me, but it had that same smooth oily texture that makes it slide down the throat as smooth as a tomcat pissing on a sheet of velvet (well: that’s me being metaphorical, but you get the drift). Vanilla, cinammon, toffee, caramel, brown Demerara sugar….I keep seeing canefields on fire at harvest season when I taste this, so strongly does it evoke memories of my boyhood. And the woodsy taste I noted before fades gently into the background, lending an overall piquancy to the taste. Just sweet enough without being overwhelming – reminds me of those cigarillos I used to smoke, which were flavoured with port wine for additional taste;  the rum was something like that.

In summary, I’d suggest this is a solid top-tier mid-price rum, perhaps even a bit better. It has real complexity and flavour, is sweet enough for me without annoying the peat-heads and can be had neat or over ice, as well as in a cocktail – a coke solidifies the flavour and texture on the palate markedly, and I highly recommend it this way. I’d say that it’s on a level with the Cruzan Single Barrel rum or above, which was a very good piece of work, and so I’ll simply close by noting that for my weekend libations on the deck in the summer, I would never say no to this excellent product of Cuba.

Viva la revolucion!

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