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Best Cuban Rums to Drink With Your Cuban Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Let me make the following disclaimer. For a long time now, my favorite rum has been Nicaraguan. Or Venezuelan. Or Jamaican. With the recent discovery of some Cuban rums I had for the first time in Europe a couple of years ago, I am happy to add them to my list. Fair warning, I drink dark rum and generally neat or with a couple of ice cubes. I also happen to believe that’s the best way to pair rum with a great cigar. In this case, we’ll explore the ‘other’ iconic product of Cuba.

Cuban rum is different – not necessarily better – in significant ways from those made elsewhere in the Caribbean. Cuban rum is generally lighter in viscosity than, say, the Dominican Republic’s Brugal, less fruity than Jamaica’s Appleton, and less caramel-forward than Venezuela’s Diplomatico. Cuban rum is still different, but closer, in my experience, to Nicaragua’s Flor de Caña or Venezuela’s Santa Teresa and Pampero Aniversario.

Cuban rums, because they are ‘clean’ and relatively dry and simple, make mixing them a good idea. Except when it comes to pairing with a cigar. A mint-and-lime laden mojito, for example, is not my idea of cigar-friendly. A rum-and-Coke? Sure, but why? Daiquiri? Who needs all that sugar when rum is made from sugarcane? I recommend you taste the booze. Here are my five favorite Cuban rums to pair with cigars. Pick your own cigar, but DO try this at home or wherever you can.

Havana Club Selección de Maestros

Havana Club is Cuba’s leading rum maker. If you’ve traveled abroad, you’ve no doubt seen Havana Club 7 in duty free shops. What you won’t see as often is the much more expensive Havana Club Union Rum, a bottle of which goes for more than $300 and not more than $400 if you’re lucky. In between, there’s Havana Club Selección de Maestros, around $50 a bottle. Selección de Maestros is a rum of slightly higher alcohol content, 45 percent, than others in the line, but it is still extraordinarily smooth. No extra burn comes with the extra power. The complexity here is distinctive among Cuban rums, even more expensive ones. Pour this in a glass and you’ll initially see amber, but there are flashes of gold and red in different light. Notes of stone fruit and herbs with just a little raisin will come through to most palates. The finish is spicy, then ultimately a bit creamy. This is an ideal example of that light, not quite as sweet, Cuban rum style, but elevated to new sipping heights.

Santiago de Cuba 11 Años

Santiago is on the southeast side of Cuba and this aged rum is made in the old Bacardi factory there. Reportedly the late Fidel Castro’s favorite rum, this is a spicy rum and a bit on the heavy and dark side for Cubans, but still smooth. The spice leads to a little oak and flashes of chocolate and vanilla. The finish, however, can seem a little bitter to some palates. When not paired with a cigar, I like this rum for ‘dirty mojitos,’ or mojitos made with dark rum.

Ron Cubay 10 Year Old – Reserva Especial

Ron Cubay has pretty much always been considered a ‘domestic’ Cuban rum and is produced in Villa Clara, in the middle of the island. It’s only since about 2013 that Cubay has been available internationally. Tasting it first in Cuba, then in Europe, I found the line to be generally a bit sweet. The Reserva Especial, in the $45 to $50 range, is sweet to start, with toffee and chocolate coming through, but changes as you move along. This is a very balanced spirit with some vanilla, spice and some nice hints of oak. After all, the 10-year old is aged in Bourbon casks. This might be why there’s a little welcome dryness in the finish, which is quite long. Tasting this rum will make it clear why the only mixer should be an ice cube, if that.

Ultimatum Sancti Spiritus 1999 Cuban Rum 18 Year Old

This is the wild card among the rums from Cuba that I like. It’s distinctive in that it is clearly aged in Bourbon barrels and seems to have had a good deal of time in them. The result is not very typical of other Cuban rums in that the Ultimatum Sancti Spiritus, about $90, is a single-cask spirit (meaning that it’s not blended with rum from other barrels) seems a bit fresher, has some nice alcohol sweetness mixing in with the oak and spice. The color is a little lighter. I tasted banana and some grapes and some vanilla. Sip it and you’ll be reminded of a Bourbon. There’s a little bitterness and a little more dryness. The finish is long and spicy.

Ron Varadero Añejo 7 Años

Yeah, I know, you want to buy that Havana Club 7. Don’t. Get this instead. It’s about $14 and a much better representation of what I think is a very typical and very drinkable Cuban rum. It’s reddish-orange in the glass and has a strong aroma. I like the notes of tobacco and plums in the Varadero. Occasionally some citrus creeps through. The finish is, well, smoky. If you insist on a rum-and-coke, here’s your rum.

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