Sep 262022

The Havana Club 3 Year Old Cuban rum (the one distributed by Pernod Ricard) is a delicately light cream shaded spirit, and one of those workhorses of the bartending circuit, much loved and often referenced by drinkers and mixologists from all points of the compass. That it’s primarily utilised in making mojitos or daiquiris and other such cocktails in no way dampens the enthusiasm of its adherents, with only occasional grumbles about access (by Americans) and how it may or may not compare against the Selvarey or the Veritas (Probitas) or any Jamaican of one’s acquaintance.

It’s been around almost forever, and if it was more versatile might even have made Key Rum status. However, as various comments here and here make clear, the consensus of opinion is that it’s best as a mixing rum (when not dismissed as being “only a mixing rum”). It bypasses the single barrel high proof ethos of today and remains very much was it always was, a blended rum that’s molasses based, column-still distilled, aged for three years in white oak, released at 40% ABV, and all done in Cuba. I gather it sells well and has remained a staple of cocktail books and bars both private and commercial.

When nosed it’s clear why the opinions are what they are. It smells quite creamy, but does have some claws. Aromas of vanilla, coconut shavings, almonds, and leather are there, and it’s the developing tart fruitred currants, tangerine rind, unripe applesand citrus that are its signature and which everyone comments on. I don’t find the citrus particularly heavy or overwhelming, just enough to make themselves felt. Overall, the nose is pretty much what I would expectlight, crisp and a bit weak.

The palate is somewhat more interesting, though it does start off as sharp and astringent as a Brit’s sense of humour. It feels a bit thin and the flavours need effort to tease out (that’s the 40% speaking). The citrus is more pronounced here, as are a few bitter notes of coffee grounds, tannins and toasted chestnuts. These are balanced off by vanilla, a lemon meringue pie and an oddly evocative wet hint of steaming air after a rain in the summer. At all times it is light and very crisp and could even have been an agricole were it not for the lack of the grassy herbals. And a comment should be spared for a delicate, short, dry and surprisingly smooth finish, even if it doesn’t bring much to the table beyond those notes already described above.

Clearing away the dishes, then, the HC 3 YO has its strengths and plays to those and stays firmly within its wheelhouse: ambition is not its thing and the rum doesn’t seek to change the world. Personally, having sipped it solo and then had it in a mix (I’m not a cocktail making swami by any stretch, so that duty is Mrs. Caner’s, because she really is), I think that while individually the elements of nose, palate and finish seem to be at odds and growl at each other here and there, in aggregate they cohere quite nicely. By that standard, it’s really quite a decent piece of work, one that deserves its “bartender classic” status….though to repeat, a neat pour is not really its forte, or my own preference in this instance.


Other notes

  • My thanks to Daniel G, a co-worker in my part of the world (which I can’t specifically identify for obvious reasons), who spotted me a generous sample from a bottle he had.
Feb 222021

Rumaniacs Review #124 | 0803

There were several varieties of the standard white Havana Club mixer: strengths varied from 37.5% to 40%, the labels changed from saying “El Ron de Cuba” to “Mix Freely” and in the early 2000s this old workhorse of the bartending scene, which had been in existence at least since the 1970s and produced all over the world, was finally retired, to be replaced by the Anejo Blanco.

From the label design I’m hazarding a guess mine came from the early 1990s (it lacks the pictures of the 1996 and 1997 medals it won that were added later) but as it was part of a collection from much earlier and the design changes were stable for long periods, it may be from the late eighties as well (the HC sun began to be coloured red in the early 1980s which sets an earliest possible dating for the bottle). As far as I know it was a column still product aged for no more than 18 months, filtered to white and made in Cuba.


Strength – 40%

NoseVery light, fragrant and delicate. Sugar water, coconut shavings (and actual coconut water), watery pears. A touch of light vanilla, watermelon and cucumbers, and an almost industrial sort of aroma to it that is supposed to double for “alcohol,” I guess, but feels too much like raw spirit to me. Without practice this could come off as a serious no-nose kind of rum.

PalateMeh. Unadventurous. Watery alcohol. Pears, cucumbers in light brine, vanilla and sugar water depending how often one returns to the glass. Completely inoffensive and easy, which in this case means no effort required, since there’s almost nothing to taste and no effort is needed. Even the final touch of lemon zest doesn’t really save it.

FinishShort, faint and undistinguished, complete non-starter. By the time you think to ask “Where’s the finish?” it’s already all over.

ThoughtsBy today’s standards, this venerable white is unimpressive. Current Havana Club variants like the 3YO Anejo Blanco or the Verde are slightly more taste-driven on their own account, and have a life over and beyond the cocktail circuit since they possess a smidgen of individual character. This is too much of a backgrounder, too anonymous, to appeal.

Note however, that it is completely consistent with its purpose which was to liven up a mojito or a daiquiri, not to appear on one of my lists of white rums (here and here) that stand tall alone. At the time, this was what such blancos were made for and what made them sell. That this one fails by today’s more exacting standards for white rums, is hardly its fault. We changed, not it.


A picture of some of the silver dry series over the decades, from the FB site HC Sammlung Hamburg

Apr 302017

Rumaniacs Review #034 | 0434

By now we are all aware of the two different kinds of Havana Club. This rum is the one from Cuba, not the Bacardi version made innot Cubaand hails from the 1980s which, coincidentally, is when I started drinking DDL’s King of Diamonds (a useless factoid, I know). No point rehashing well-known details of the brand, so off we go.


Strength – 40%

NoseOh well, very nice indeed, quite a few steps ahead of the Facundo Paraiso. Dare I saythe real deal”? Better not. Initially it smells very crisp and floral, with lightwateryfruits (pears, guavas, even watermelon), and then segues gently into something more creamy. Actually the aroma moves into heavier syrup-from-tinned-peaches territory after a while, but is redeemed from cloying heaviness by remaining reasonably light, adding some brine and genteel gone-to-seed flower gardens with too much earth. Some traces of toffee, tobacco, maybe a flirt of cinnamon. Gone too fast, alas.

PalateWhat just happened here? Was that licorice, medicinals and plasticene I tasted? Indeed it was. Just as suddenly, it went limp again, but after standing for a while, with some effort, I could make out additional flavours of green peas (!!), apple juice, vanilla, nutmeg, caramel, cardamonand some bitterness of over-zealous application of the barrel. Good potential, but ultimately unsatisfying and again, this being the era of 40%, really not intense enough, while interesting in its own way.

FinishWell done, reasonably long for the strength. Cigar smoke, brine, some last herbal notes and a couple of olives. Dry and dirty and quite pleasant.

ThoughtsNose and finish are the best part of the experience, with some nice points on the palate. Not as anonymous and boring as the Bacardis, yet lacks punch in its own way; and even though it may be churlish to grumble about the way rums were made back then, a few extra points of proof would have gone a long way to raising the labial volume to something higher.


Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found on the website.

Mar 262011
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

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. The Maltmonster 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 Legendariodefinitely with its own character, however. It was flowery, with barely any molasses or caramel flavour to be detected at allthat 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 thingbut, 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, because althugh the nose had its weaknesses, 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 schnozzcan 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 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.

(#071. 80.5/100)

Jun 192010

Havana 7

First posted 19 June 2010 on Liquorature.

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 often 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, honestlysurely 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 marvelous 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 caramelin 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 mixerif 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.


Other Notes

  • 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 welland 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 🙂
  • Update 2020: This elongated bottle was phased out in the 2010s and is now a stubbier version. The exact year of the changeover is unknown
  • Abbreviations: “EH5for English Harbour 5 YO andSDRstands for aSingle Digit Rum”, one aged less than 10 years.
Jun 092010

First posted 9th June 2010 on Liquorature.

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 rumsimportation into the Statesbut we, as Canadians, suffer no such problems or shortages.

As I taste rums from more and more countriesthus far I’ve sampled from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Australia, Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Canada, Scotland, Venezuela, St. Croix, Antigua, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Anguillacertain characteristics seem to be national in character: Antiguans make a lighter, smoother, sweeter rum, the Jamaicans favour some citrus and funkiness, 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 stocksthis 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 thedouble barrelmethod 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 itI made sniffy noises at the Kraken the other day, for which I’m sure The Last Hippie 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, cinnamon, toffee, caramel, brown Demerara sugar….I keep seeing cane fields 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 overwhelmingreminds 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 cocktaila 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!


Other Notes

  • ThisBarrel Proofrum was replaced around 2012 by the newSeleccion de Maestros”, but it’s the same thing by another name.
  • The age has never been disclosed, nor the components of the blend. Ageing was done in white oak barrels and a finish in some other casks that were also never mentioned.