Dec 212020
 

The Cuban-made Vacilón brand was launched in 2016 (as a relaunch of an apparently very popular brand from the 1950s) and has been making the rounds of the various rum festivals off and on.  It’s part of the brand’s “luxury range” of 15 / 18 / 25 year old rums, which is fine, except that as usual, there’s very little to actually go on about the production details – which remains one of the more annoying things about latin rons in general, hardly unique to Cuba. 

Suffice to say, it is made by Destilería Heriberto Duquesne attached to the local sugar mill located in Remedios in the north-central coast of Cuba under the overlordship of Cuba’s government entity Tecoazúcar. Founded in 1844 and previously known as Santa Fe, this is a distillery that produces pure alcohol as well as export rum, and makes the Vigia and the Mulata rum brands — so consolidating the information we have from those (here and here) we can say with some assurance that it’s a column still light rum, aged in ex-bourbon barrels…and that barrel strategy, coupled with skilful blending by the roneros, is behind its taste profile, not any kind of terroire or pre-distillation techniques or pot still component. 

How does that all come together when it’s time for the theory to take a back seat? Judge for yourself. Personally, I found the strength to be anemic at 40%.  It allowed aromas of caramel, nuts, flowers, coffee and cocoa to come through, just not with any kind of punch or assertiveness. Some light fruits — watermelon, papaya, guava, nothing too bold — shyly tiptoed on to the stage but at the first sigh of appreciation they panicked and ran back off again.

Tasting it made it clear this is a soft, warm sipping rum to be had by itself, and savoured that way – even ice might destroy its fragile and delicate construction.  That’s both its appeal and (for me) it’s downfall – I tasted caramel, butterscotch, bon bons, a bit of hazelnut, lemon zest, cumin and dill, a touch of ripe pear and that was it. The finish…well, it trailed off like an unfinished sentence, trending towards silence without ever having drawn attention to itself.  Which is, I must concede, about what I had expected (though not what I had hoped for) and which defined the rum as a whole.

Let me be clear – the Vacilón is a perfectly “nice” rum. On the surface, based on the label, it hits all the high points. It’s from Cuba, home of a long and proud tradition of rum making stretching back centuries. It is fifteen “true” years old.  And if it’s only 40% well, cask strength isn’t the rumiverse and standard strength rums should not be looked down upon just because they lack the spirituous equivalent of Ahnold’s biceps in his prime. 

Except that that was not the way the experience unfolded. I can live with the faint, quiet, wispy proof, I just needed to focus more, and harder, to tease out the tasting notes.  But it was simply unexciting, lacking appeal, not making any kind of serious statement for its own uniqueness and quality. It could have been five years younger and not been appreciably different. Why in this day and age they didn’t at least try to jolly it up to maybe 43% or 46% remains one of those unanswered questions to which rons have yet to respond.  Maybe it’s because they sell quite enough of what they do already and see no reason to change.

That of course is their privilege – rums like this do have their fans and markets. But as long as rons’ makers only keep trotting along the same old track at the same old pace, they’re only ever going to end up getting dismissive reviews like this one, and placing themselves in the “also-ran” finishing spot. Or even further back in the listings, which is something of a shame for an otherwise decent product on which maestros roneros expend so much time and effort. I think they can do better for today’s audiences, and they should at least give it a try, instead of recreating blends that were popular the 1950s but which are no longer as much in fashion now as they were back then.

(#787)(76/100)

Aug 132020
 

There’s a peculiar light yellow lustre to the Santiago de Cuba rum somewhat euphemistically called the Carta Blanca (“White Card”), which is a result, one must assume, of deliberately incomplete filtration. The rum is aged three years in oak casks, so some colour is inevitable, but in anonymous white barroom mixers, that’s usually eliminated by the charcoal used: so whatever colour remains can’t be an accident. It’s likely, in this case, that the makers figured since it was issued at a trembly-kneed sort of please-don’t-hurt-me sub-proof strength, it might be better to leave something behind in case people forgot it was supposed to be a rum and not a vodka.

That worked, I suppose…up to a point.  The problem is that a 38% proof point simply does not permit sufficient serious aromas to be discerned easily – you really got to work at it (which I argue is hardly the point for a rum like this one).  

When nosing it, I certainly got the light sort of profile it promised: some negligible white fruits, in bed with a thinly sharp and quite herbal background; it smelled a bit grassy, almost agricole-like, surprising for a Spanish-style ron from Cuba.  And when I took my time with it and let it stand for a bit, I sensed almonds, crushed walnuts, coconut shavings, papaya, sweet watermelon and even a touch of brine. (Note: adding water did absolutely nothing for the experience beyond diluting it to the point of uselessness).

As for the taste when sipped, “uninspiring” might be the kindest word to apply. It’s so light as to be nonexistent, and just seemed so…timid. Watery and weak, shivering on the palate with a sort of tremulous nervousness, flitting here and there as if ready to flee at a moment’s notice, barely brushing the taste buds before anxiously darting back out of reach and out of range. I suppose, if you pay attention, you can detect some interesting notes: a sort of minerally base, a touch of mint. Citrus – like lemon grass – cardamom and cumin, and even some ginnip and sour cream.  It’s just too faint and insipid to enthuse, and closes the show off with a final touch of citrus peel and lemon meringue pie, a bit of very delicate florals and maybe a bit of pear juice.  Beyond that, not much going on. One could fall asleep over it with no issues, and miss nothing.

Obviously such tasting notes as I describe here are worlds removed from the forceful aspects of all those brutal falling-anvil fullproofs many fellow boozehounds clearly enjoy more.  When faced with this kind of rum my default position as a reviewer is to try and be tolerant, and ask who it was made for, what would such people say about it, can redemption be found in others’ tastes? After all, I have been told on many occasions that other parts of the world prefer other rums – softer, lighter, weaker, subtler, easier…made for mixes, not chuggers or shot glasses.

Completely agree, but I suspect that no-one other than a bartender or a cocktail guru would do much with the Carta Blanca. It has all the personality of a sheet of paper, and would disappear in a mix, leaving no trace of itself behind, drowned out by anything stronger than water. It does the world of rum no favours, trumpets no country and no profile worthy of merit, and after a sip or a gulp can be forgotten about as easily as remembering which cocktail it was just mixed in. In short, it has a vapid existence unmolested by the inconvenience of character.

(#752)(72/100)

Jul 102018
 

Now that Americans can bring back Cuban booze without sanction, it’s likely that their rums will get a boost in sales, and if the Havana Club trademark war ever gets resolved – though I doubt it will happen any time soon – then we’ll see many more on the market.  However, at this period in time, over and above the big names from the island like Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club, to get seriously aged juice that’s really from Cuba, we still have to look primarily at the independents for now.

One of these is Kill Devil, named — as any rummie can tell you — after the old term for rum used in its infancy in the Caribbean many centuries ago.  Kill Devil is the rum brand of the whiskey blender Hunter Laing, and they’ve been around since 1949 when Frederick Laing founded a whisky blending outfit in Glasgow.  In 2013, now run by descendants, the company created an umbrella organization called Hunter Laing & Co, which folded in all their various companies (like Edition Spirits and the Premier Bonding bottling company). As far as my research goes, the first rums they released to the market – unadulterated, usually at 46%, unfiltered – came in 2016, and they have issued releases from Barbados, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Fiji and this one from Cuba.  One imagines that they read the tea leaves and realized there was some money to be made in rums as well as whiskies, though by coming into the market so relatively late, they’re butting heads with a lot of other new entrants – good for us as consumers for sure, perhaps not quite as rosy-cheeked for them.

As for Sancti Spiritus, this is a Cuban distillery also known as Paraiso, dating from 1946 (there is some dispute here – another source says 1944) that is located almost dead center in the island.  Much of what is known of their rums comes from independents like Compagnie des Indes, Cadenhead, Bristol Spirits, Secret Treasures, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Isla del Ron and Renegade, implying a substantial export market of bulk rum to Europe.  But they also make rums of their own under the Santero brand, like the Añejo Blanco, Carta Blanca 3 YO, Palma Superior, Añejo Ambarino, Añejo Reserva, Carta Oro 5YO, Añejo 7YO and Firewater (none of which I’ve tried, to my detriment). And I’ve heard it said they supply Havana Club as well, so there’s no shortage of places for anyone with an interest to get some.

Some brief stats, for the propellerheads like me: the single-cask rum here is from the above-noted distillery, coloured pale gold, distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2016, with 362 bottles released.  And it has a strength of 46%, similar to rums issued by Renegade and L’Esprit and others, keeping it within reach and tolerance of the greater rum drinking audience.

That may be, but it was still quite a forceful piece of work to smell, much more so than I was expecting, and would perhaps come as a surprise to those who are used to softer, milder Bacardis as “Cuban style” exemplars. Presenting rather dry and spicy – almost hot – it seemed to steer a course somewhere between a light molasses column still rum, and the grassier and more vegetal notes of an agricole…without actually leaning towards either one. It had a mix of cherries, peaches and tart soursop, unsweetened yoghurt, vanilla, oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a very faint line of citrus running through the whole thing. It felt somewhat schizophrenic, to be honest – both acidic (in a good way) as well as lightly creamy – and that made it intriguing to say the least.

As it was sipped, it became somewhat less creamy than the nose had intimated – “sprightly” might be a good word as any to describe it. It was quite clean in the mouth, tasting of green grapes, apples, cider, mixed up with something of the saliva-flooding crisp tartness of red currants, or lemons just starting to go off. What made it stand out was the background notes of light flowers,caramel, vanilla, bananas, ginnips, and wet dark brown sugar, plus those spices again, mostly cinnamon. The finish was also quite elegant, and left memories of light caramel and fudge, oakiness and vanilla, with a little citrus for bite. It lacked a certain roundness and smooth planing away of rough edges, but I suggest that’s a good thing – it made it its own rum rather than a milquetoast please-as-many-as-you-can commercial product you’ll forget tomorrow morning.

Overall, the rum shows that even with all our bitching about pot still rums being better and yet not represented often enough, there’s little that’s bad about a column still spirit when done right, and the Kill Devil is a good example.  Even though I don’t know at what strength it came off the line, I feel that whatever complexities seventeen years of ageing imparted managed to provide an end result that was quite a nice rum (Cuban or otherwise). Which likely demonstrates that if we want to have a good column still experience from a juice aged in continental climes, there are certainly candidates for your coin out there, and as long as you come to grips with its slightly odd personality, this is one of them.

(#527)(84/100)

Jul 152015
 

C_des_Indes 2

Seems appropriate that I tried and fell in lust with this rum in Paris; it reminded me what the word concupiscent meant.

For every small craft maker that opens its doors and tries to make its mark on the rum world, yet fails to rise to the levels of its own self-proclaimed quality, there’s another that does. I’m going to go out on a limb, and remark that if this one sterling 15 year old Cuban rum (with a 280-bottle-outturn) is anything to go by, Compagnie des Indes is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy.  All of them.

Let’s get the history and background out of the way. The founder of this French company, Mr. Florent Beuchet, drew on his background in the rum and spirits business (his father owns a winery and absinthe distillery, and Mr. Beuchet himself was a brand ambassador in the USA for Banks Rum for a couple of years) to open up a craft shop in 2014.  If Mr. Beuchet was trying to evoke the atmosphere of the long-ago pirate days, he certainly started the right way by naming his company as  he did. I grew up reading the histories of the violent, corrupt, exploitative, semi-colonial powers of the great trading concerns of Europe in the Age of Empires – the British East and West India Companies, the Dutch East India Company, and many others.  So right away we have a whiff of deep blue water, wooden sailing ships with snapping sails and creaking hawsers, and all their noble and happy traditions of rum, buggery and the lash…and we haven’t even cracked the bottle yet.

All the usual suspects are represented in the company’s limited edition bottlings – Guadeloupe, Belize, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica are some examples – but he has also bottled blends like the Latino and the Caraibes (reviewed by my buddy Steve on Rumdiaries, here), plus stuff I can’t wait to get my mitts on, from Fiji and Indonesia.  And then there’s this one, from Sancti Spiritus in Cuba, bottled at 45%.

C_des_Indes 1

The first whiff of nose that greeted me after decanting the straw-brown rum was the raw musky scent of honey still in a beehive.  It was warm, light, aromatic, a pleasure to inhale.  Wax, cinnamon and cloves joined the party, and then it became unexpectedly and slightly dry as it opened up.  After letting it stand for a few minutes, I tried it again, remarked on its clean and clear aroma, and then to my astonishment noticed not only cedar, sawdust straw and smoke…but also mauby, a local (non-alcoholic) drink made from tree bark in the West Indies.

Well now, this I had to get more of, so I went straight into the tasting, and found no disappointment there.  The driness persisted – not unpleasantly – and the rum presented light and clear as the nose had suggested.  It coated the tongue nicely – it was…well, clingy, I suppose (and I mean that in a good way).  There again was that slight bitterness of unsweetened mauby, but also a delicate and slightly sweet floral note. The heavier honey scents were not totally absent, merely hinted at, allowing other flavours to come forward. White guavas, coconut, lavender, some sage even, all tied together by faint mint and tea leaves crushed between the fingers. The finish was excellent – not long, fruity and floral at once, smooth and heated, leaving me not only without any complaints, but hastening back to the bottle to try some more.

Although I have a thing for darker Demerara rums, a specimen like this one makes me think of throwing that preference right out of the window. I can happily report that the Cuba 15 year old is quietly amazing, one of the best from that island I’ve ever had.  If Descartes was correct about the separable existences of body and soul (supported by Plato, whose Phaedrus was a winding literary excursion arguing for the soul’s immortality) then we might want to apply the concept to this rum.  We’ll drink the thing down and enjoy every sip, and then it’ll be gone, but forget it we never will.  Rums aren’t humans, of course, and have a shelf life usually measured in months, not decades….perhaps their continuance in our memories and affections is the only real immortality to which such a transient substance can aspire. In this case, rightfully so.

(#222. 88/100)


Other notes

  • Mr. Beuchet remarks that with certain clearly stated exceptions, he adds nothing to his rums, nor does he buy stock that has been adulterated in any way.  Where such additions take place, he notes it up front. Like with Velier, his labels are quite informative (if not quite as stark).
  • The rum is two months shy of sixteen years old (distilled July 1998, bottled May 2014).
May 022013
 

D7K_1292

Parts of this rum succeed swimmingly, others less so.

This was the second of two rums brought over some days ago, by my squaddie Tony – he of the famous 151 proof rumballs guaranteed to lay you out flat under the table in labba time. I remember having about four of these alcoholic grenades a few years back, and then having a serious and lengthy conversation with a doorpost for the next ten minutes, thinking it was the Hippie. Tony had the good fortune to visit Cuba recently, and being one of the few Caners in the whole province (he claims to have seen a few others of our near-mythical breed in occasional flyspeck watering holes, though this may be mere rumour), he brought back both this rum and the 12 year old Santiago de Cuba I looked at before.

So what to say about this one? Well, first of all, it’s not of a level quite comparable to the sterling 12 year old mentioned above, but it reminded me a lot of another Cuban rum I reviewed some months before, the Ron Palma Mulata de Cuba, which I didn’t care for all that much in spite of its also being aged twelve years. After doing some research, it came as no surprise that the same company made them both – Technoazucar. The company website  barely makes mention of this rum beyond some technical details, which I find an odd omission.

Secondly, the Vigia is made from sugar syrup, not molasses, which may account for something of its lighter, vegetal nose (the title of the rum comes from Hemmingway’s residence in San Francisco de Paula, Havana). Be that as it may, the mahogany rum did indeed have a rather herbal tang to it: dry, spicy, with hints of lemon grass, orange zest, dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Not aloofly astringent like Professor McGonnagal, more like, oh Professor Spout – plumper, more inviting, pleasantly earthy and absolutely no-nonsense. I thought that nose was the best thing about this product, though the taste wasn’t much behind.

The palate morphed from the aforementioned grassy notes to something quite different – a touch of red grapes and wine surrounding the caramel and burnt sugar core. A floral background of white blossoms stole gently around these aromas, and the mouthfeel was pleasant, without drama or overacting of any kind. Not all that smooth, but not overly spicy either – it was quite a difference from the Mulata, and closer in profile to (if lighter than) the Santiago de Cuba. Certainly it was sweeter than either, I should note, just not enough to be either cloying or offensive. A medium long, none-too-special exit redolent of caramel and flowery notes, plus some crushed walnuts, light smoke and leather, rounded off the overall profile.

So, the nose was pretty decent, the palate almost as excellent and the finish just meh. The Vigia tasted like a youngish rum (5-7 years, I judged), one to mix in a nice daiquiri perhaps, or that old standby, the Libre. Some of my ambivalence comes from me seeing it as an agricole, not so much a molasses based product, and while I have great admiration for such rums when properly made (such as in the French Caribbean Islands), here it just seems that they wanted to produce a mid-tier rum without too much additional effort, saved their love for more top tier products, and let it go as it was.

Which is strange because it’s better than the Mulata 12 year old even without that extra care and attention. How odd is that?

(#158. 83/100)


Other Notes

Subsequent research suggested that as a Gran Anejo the ron is supposedly a blend of rons 12-15 years old but I still lack independent verification as of 2021

Apr 252013
 

D7K_1288

Very few discordant notes in this excellent 12 year old…just perhaps a little less intensity than I’m after, maybe a shade less complexity.

The Cuba Rum Corporation’s 12 year old rum is a very well put together product that reaffirms my belief that if the US embargo is even lifted in part, rums should be high on the list of products allowed into the country just so those poor souls south of 49 can see what they’ve been missing. This rum is proof that Cuba remains high on the list of nations making some of the best rums out there.

Other bottles in the Santiago line made by the CRC are the Anejo, the 11 year old, 20 year old and 25 year old, and while it is dangerous to imply on the basis of a single tasting how others in the series turns out, all I can say is that after sampling this one (provided by my friend Antonio after he returned from the Island, in a rum tasting session at my house that was quite epic), I’m really looking forward to checking out all the others. Because this rum is very good indeed, even if it could (in my sole opinion) be made a shade stronger than the 40% at which it stands.

Lighter than some of the Demeraras I’ve been trying recently, but more assertive than the softer Bajan and Panamanians, the 12 year old had a lovely mahogany colour with ruby hints, which swirled thickly in my glass, releasing a very pleasant, pungent nose of muted orange peel, cherries and sweet, light flowers. These initial scents blossomed into a rich and fruity aroma that presented notes of cherries, vanilla, coconut and (if you can believe it) cola. In its own way, it released both perfumed and deeper caramel scents, with hardly any smoke or tannins at all.

D7K_1290

As for the arrival, that was amazing. Smooth and yet heated, warm and inviting on the palate. Based just on the colour, I would have expected it to be thicker and heavier to the taste, yet it was actually a bit light and dancing as all get out, as if I had seen Jack Black turn into Gwynneth Paltrow. Some smoke, nuts, caramel, papaya and brown sugar were the various commingling notes I was tasting…but what I want to emphasize is something of the overall balance and harmony these flavours achieved, the way they merged into a mouthfeel that was, quite simply, luscious. A medium long exit left behind fond memories of caramel, ripe yellow fruits and a faint perfumed note of citrus that faded only reluctantly.

This relatively dark coloured, light tasting rum could probably be bettered, but for the life of me I don’t see how unless it is to torque it up a shade. The boys who make the Santiago line – I read that the rum is made in the old Bacardi facilities which the family left behind after the Cuban Revolution – have taken the light rum methodology pioneered by the old maestros and created something quite spectacular here: its Gold Medal at the 2012 Berlin RumFest was probably no accident. It succeeds at many levels – nose, taste, mouthfeel, finish – and though perhaps my tastes these days run to somewhat stronger fare, I can’t argue with the results contained in this bottle.

D7K_1285

I came across a reference online that the Santiago rum (no further detail) was Castro’s favourite. That may be purely anecdotal, and I have lots of great hooch in my own stocks – but I can state with some assurance that if you have a shelf containing your own favourite sipping rums, this one can, without embarrassment or undue favour, be displayed proudly among all the others residing there.

(#157. 86/100)


Other Notes

In August 2019, Corporación Cuba Ron (“Cubaron”) signed a deal with that bastion of capitalism, Diageo, to distribute Ron Santiago de Cuba internationally (not including the USA, obviously).  This is probably not good news for Pernod Ricard, the long term distributor of Havana Club and Diageo’s rival in the spirits business.

Aug 072012
 

Strong beginning is marred by a disappointing failure on the back end stretch.  This rum will one day (hopefully) be a good one…right now it’s merely serviceable. For a 12 year old, that’s quite a disappointment.

Stuart and Mary, two very good friends of mine, had the decency to leave behind an excessively hefty portion of their newly purchased Mulata upon their return from Cuba the other day. This was one of those occasions when I had to do the tasting and evaluation right away, which was perfectly fine, of course. We get Cuban rums around here – Canadians lack the curmudgeonly stubbornness of embargoing that country beyond all reason for over half a century – we just don’t get that much of it beyond the standard fare of Havana Club, Legendario and Matusalem. And as has been my custom of late, I sampled it in conjunction with the Cockspur 12 and the El Dorado 12, both of which I had been meaning to come back to for quite some time. Too bad neither Stuart or Mary stuck around for this — maybe, having reduced them to well-pickled insensibility with many of the older rums in my collection the week before (“How old?” was a frequent refrain until their power of coherent speech was much impaired by yet another shot), they were reluctant to repeat the experience quite this soon.

Distilled by the Cuban company Tecnoazucar, the 12 is one of a line of rums of various ages coming from that company, none of which I’ve ever seen or tried (largely because I don’t go to Cuba, and have few friends who, if they do, bring back anything for me to try, alas). Mulata is a word one might loosely term (feminine) half-breed or mestizo or Metiz or (in Guyana) “dougla.” It may not be politically correct to refer to people of mixed ethnicity that way in this day and age, but being one myself I can’t say it bothers me overmuch, since I am of the firm opinion that through diversity and much mixing comes excellence, beauty, and something better than either progenitor’s own antecedents.

Still, this is just a name for a rum, like Panama Red referring to a redhead, or St Nicholas Abbey to a real place. Nothing much should be read or inferred by such a moniker – the rum would stand or fall on its own. Proceeding on that assumption, let me present my findings, such as they are.  To begin, an impressive lead in right off the bat was the sweet scent of port wine infused pipe tobacco on the nose. Soft wafts of red grapes just trending towards ripeness, a sort of winey aspect, mile and mellow, with little assertiveness or bite….this rum liked me.

The body of the Mulata was of a sort of medium texture on the arrival, and came with a heated (but not spicy) announcement of itself that was quite pleasing: not very sweet, and dry and leathery and smooth and buttery all at once: I wish I could have had some earlier iterations of the line to see how they improved it over the years. It had a decent mouthfeel to it, that closed matters off with a faint nutty flavour and a sly sort of citrus aftertaste that was like my seven year old boy when, upon a first intro, isn’t sure he wants to meet you after all and hides behind me. In summary, Ron Palma Mulata is reasonably complex…yet not married together as well as it might have been.

The finish is long lasting and heated – it scratched spitefully a bit, as if to tell me not to take it for granted – dry, with a slightly salty tang, exiting with a sense of nuts and damp sea air. Here I went back through the tasting a few more times, and gradually I came to the conclusion that the spiciness and slight raw edge to the rum, at end, make it somewhat less than it could have been.

All this sounds like it’s a pretty decent product (my whinging aside), and to be fair, it is, had you never had anything else to run alongside it. It makes, for example, a lovely cocktail. The thing was, both the Cockspur and the El Dorado 12 (which I am appreciating more and more as I run other rums past it), and the agricole Karukera Cask Strength, exceed it. The taste and feel of the neat Mulata are decent enough and I’d recommend anyone going to Cuba to pick up a sample (if for no other reason than to get away from the better known brands and to stretch one’s taste buds a shade). Yet if I had to be brutally honest, I’d regretfully have to note that all things considered, the Mulata fails when compared to equally aged siblings from Barbados, Guadeloupe and Guyana. It may be because the spiciness of the Cuban style not being quite my thing, or it may simply be that the others are just tastier, smoother and of overall superior quality.

Part of this may be because Ron Mulata is a new entrant on the scene – my research notes it was formed in 1993 – and therefore lacks some of the historical experience, the generations of carefully nurtured blends and barrels and talent that the old houses possess. The Mulata range of rums stem from a sugar cane syrup base created by the maestro roneros of Tecnoazucar (a company that produces raw rum stock much like DDL in Guyana does). This rum is matured in 180 litre American white oak barrels which supposedly provide a lighter flavour profile and a distinctive bouquet.

Distinctive enough, I guess. Depending on who you ask or what you read, it may be one of the top selling rums in Cuba. That it’s a decent rum to be obtained locally on a visit to Cuba I don’t dispute, and I like it enough. But if this rum is good for anything, it’s to show how good other twelve year old rums are and can be, and, unfortunately, the flip side is that it shows up this rum’s few shortcomings as well. A decade from now it may be a world beater. Right now, it’s trailing behind other Caribbean products in my estimation, and as a rum lover, all I can hope is that as time goes on it will become a rum to watch.

(#116. 78.5/100)

 

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 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, 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 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 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)

Jan 032011
 

A blended rum given enhanced flavour by the addition of Muscatel wine prior to final ageing.  This creates an unusual almost-sipper that is not entirely to my taste but cannot be denied for what it is – an intriguing essay into the craft of playing around with the basic brown-sugar sweetness of rum to get something quite unique.

First posted 3 January 2011 on Liquorature.

Legendario Ron Añejo is a Cuban rum, but makes no concessions to people North of 49 who don’t habla, since nothing on the label is English (or French).  Fortunately, as a travelling vagrant, I have a smattering of several additional tongues (and can curse pretty well in about fifteen or so, but never mind), so this was no barrier.  The rum is exported around the world, and is an interesting entry into the world of aged spirits, not least because its flavor profile is so exceedingly odd.

This was a rum I bought as an impulse purchase, for about thirty bucks, and my opinion was that it’s a middling rung of the Legendario product ladder.  There isn’t much of that to begin with: the entire line seems to consist of six rums both dark and white, with the Gran Reserva 15 year old being the top end. The Ron Añejo is a rum that blends a 47% solera with rums that are one, four and six years old, and then a small smidgen of Muscatel wine is added, after which the resultant is aged for fifteen days in oaken casks prior to bottling.  While produced in Cuba, it is marketed primarily out of Spain and although I’m not sure, I suspect that this final ageing takes place there also.

Legendario poured out as amber brown from an opaque dark-brown bottle with a cheap tinfoil cap. In the glass it exhibited a touch of oily film, yet devolved into remarkably thin legs that scooted back down rather quickly. I regarded it with some surprise, not sure what to make of this: usually when you see a filmy sheen develop on the sides of your glass, the legs tend to be rather lazy, but not here. So was Legendario a rum with good body or not?

The nose suggested it might be.  I didn’t care for it on an initial sniff – I was hit by a deep and cloying fruitiness, like overripe papayas or even the Australian Bundie, neither of which is on my list of all-time favourites – and this proves why it is so necessary never to let your first try dictate your final opinion.  Taking in the nose a second and third time, I got the same aroma, yes, but then it dissipated and mellowed out into scents of honey and dark sugars, infused with the sharper but muted tannins of oak. Not so much as to make it a bitter experience, just enough to prove it had been aged.

The taste was fascinating and continued on from the nose: the Añejo did in fact have a robust medium body, and was smooth and rich on the tongue, leaving a nice oily film that distributed a flavour reminiscent of cigars and tobacco (and oak).  A smoky caramel-toffee flavour slowly developed and married into an emergent taste of cherries and ripe papaya. I was not entirely enamoured of this element: it was quite a fruity little number, perhaps too much so, and it was only when I did my customary research that it occurred to me that the added Muscatel – a black, quite sweet variety of grape – was in all likelihood responsible for these overripe fruity tastes I was getting hit with. I remain unimpressed with the effort while acknowledging its originality.

The fade was pretty good. Medium long and sweet, and while here again the hints of overripe fruit persisted, they were overshadowed by molasses and burnt sugar fumes that were a very pleasant way to have the Legendario go down.

What’s my opinion on this one? Tough call. I do not believe the Muscatel adds anything to it except differentiation from the crowd. It may be that there was simply too much of it, and it sort of crowded out other flavours, to the overall detriment of the whole rum.  As a sipper, then, it’s borderline.  As a mixer, if you take something with less than the normal amount of sugar in it – say, Coke zero or ginger ale or some such – it’ll probably make your day.

Americans, who have maintained their trade embargo of Cuba for longer than many residents of Florida have now been alive, cannot legally import any of the sterling products of the island nation, the most famous of which are cigars and rums (although I’m sure that aficionados get their stocks regardless).  The Legendario is a better-than-middling product, to me: it is not on par with Havana Club’s barrel proof offerings, and I’d really like to give the Gran Reserva 15 year old a twirl on the dance floor – but it’s not bad for all that, even given its initially startling fruity nose.  Legendario is nothing to break the embargo over, mind you – prospective purchasers of this rum in the USA can wait until the embargo inevitably gets lifted – but if you can get it, by all means snag a bottle.

(#060. 76/100)

 

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, 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 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 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.

(#024)(Unscored)


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 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 🙂
  • 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
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 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 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 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 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 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!

(#023)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • This “Barrel Proof” rum was replaced around 2012 by the new “Seleccion 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.