HAVANA CLUB RUMS FROM CUBA & PUERTO RICO SQUARE OFF
Some of my fondest memories of visiting Cuba have to do with drinking the island’s cherished Havana Club Ron or as we call it in the States, rum. Whether it was sitting at the beach or hanging out with friends or while smoking a cigar a gentleman had just rolled for me, doing so while sipping on fine Havana Club Añejo 7 Años neat was as good as it got. And now those good times can continue to roll a whole lot easier.
A lasting legacy of the Obama administration is the easing and opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Politics aside, the lifting of embargo restrictions at the very least means that Americans are now able to acquire Cuban rum and cigars a lot easier. As trade and travel to Cuba is no longer forbidden, the Obama administration began lifting a 50+ year ban on Cuban goods, in particular its beloved rum and cigars.
Whereas Cuban products were once considered contraband, now Americans can purchase Cuban cigars and rum from anywhere they find the products abroad as long as they are for personal consumption. Eventually we’ll all be able to get our hands on Cuban rum, which is so easy to drink and so very delicious.
Cuba’s Havana Club is now part of the Pernod Ricard lineup, which also includes brands such as Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey. And now, in a somewhat dramatic twist, there’s another Havana Club on the market as Bacardi is now selling its very own Havana Club Cuban rum made in Puerto Rico.
The founding family of Havana Club rum was the Arechabalas who were forced to leave Cuba after Fidel Castro’s revolution, losing any claim they had to the rum they created.
“Our family was disheartened after the forced exile from Cuba and has always felt the need for justice for what happened to our ancestors,” José Arechabala, a great-grandson of the founder, said in a statement released by Bacardi. “We feel their life’s work continues to live on through this rebranding of Havana Club.”
Bacardi’s Havana Club rum is said to use the original family recipe of the Arechabalas. Once I heard of this new rum, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and taste if for myself. While watching a recent “60 Minutes” special on the new Rum Wars, I found it fascinating that some Cubans in Havana refused to even try the Bacardi version as if it would be treason to do so. Indeed, island pride is very high in Cuba. But I’m all about tasting what’s new and potentially life affirming so I searched low and high but couldn’t find the new Bacardi rum. Then I managed to find it in all places at a Hard Rock Cafe on Hollywood Boulevard where tourists and even the bar staff didn’t know what they had in front of them.
The Bacardi Añejo Blanco is akin to the Havana Club 3 Años, which is best used as a mixer. While the Bacardi white is drinkable on its own, it’s better in a Cuba Libre—AKA Rum & Coke—or in a classic Daiquiri. At the Hollywood Hard Rock Cafe, I challenged my bartender to make a simple Daiquiri with the white rum and his concoction, a mix of rum, lime juice and simple syrup, would have made Hemingway proud.
But all I wanted to do was pin the two dark rums against one another. Bacardi’s Añejo Clasico versus Cuba’s Havana Club Añejo 7 Años (seven-year rum). I think these two rums would be wasted in cocktails as they’re better enjoyed neat or on a big rock. At least that was my take on the Cuban Havana Club that I am so familiar with it.
Anxious to get my first taste of the Bacardi Havana Club, I found the it to be very smooth with a pleasing hint of caramel. I think Cuba’s Havana Club has a little more bite as there’s just a hint of harshness as the rum goes down and maybe it’s for that very reason that I slightly prefer Cuba’s rum a tad more. And did so as we held a blind tasting between the two rums.
During a blind tasting that the Washington Post held for a story it ran recently, experts didn’t guess right. And my tasting compadre Chris Temple, a confidant I trust when doing booze tastings, was adamant that he preferred the Cuban rum when we first tried them out in the open, yet choose wrong during the blind tasting. That just made my day. While I could appreciate the smoothness of the Bacardi rum, it was the bite of Cuba’s rum that allowed me to differentiate between the two.
While emotions run very high on the subject of Cuban relations, some feel Cuba’s Havana Club rum is stolen property that’s still owned by the Cuban regime while others question the Cuban authenticity of a rum made in Puerto Rico. I tend not to think so grand and instead appreciate two fine rums that I hope will soon be easy for me to buy. For now, I save my Havana Club rum from Cuba for special occasions or share it with people that mean the world to me, and I look forward to adding the Bacardi Havana Club to my collection to share with those who can appreciate a fine spirit when it’s in front of them.
I don’t think we need to choose a side in this rum war. I like that the story of the Arechabala family is becoming known and I appreciate the fierce pride the Cuban’s have for their rum. Personally, I’m happy that what once was forbidden fruit is no longer a secret and can soon be loved for the wonderful spirit that it is.
Story by Jose Martinez