March 29, 2013

Review: Havana Club Seleccion Maestro - Oh Sweet Contraband!

This week we're breaking all the rules.  This is straight up contraband.  Forbidden hooch that enters the United States in false bottom suitcases and mislabeled boxes in the bottom of speed boats.  A smoky beast that can't be caged even by all the might of Uncle Sam.  But that's not the worst of it.  It's not even whiskey.  It's RUM!

Badass Mofos

Winter, 1956 - The Sierra Maestra Mountains, Cuba - Brothers Raul and Fidel Castro rejoin forces with Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and the other surviving rebels after the slaughter of three quarters of their men at the hands of Batista's army.  The Sierra Maestras overlook Santiago de Cuba, the headquarters of one of Cuba's most successful enterprises: Bacardi Distillery.

Che, Raul, and Fidel
In 1960, after the revolution, Castro returns across the Sierra Maestras to nationalize Bacardi.  However, Don Facundo Bacardi's grandson flees to the Bahamas with the key ingredient: Bacardi's prized yeast.  Without the yeast, the rum formula cannot be followed.

Castro turns his sites on another rum producer: Havana Club, owned since 1878 by the Arechabala family.  Castro successfully nationalizes the Havana Club Distillery in the coastal town of Cardenas.  Havana Club becomes the primary brand of Cuba and, of course, subject to the embargo by the United States.  In 1993, the Cuban government inks a deal with Pernod Ricard to globally distribute Havana Club.  Today Havana Club is the go-to brand across Europe and much of the world.  But sadly it's still banned in the US along with Cohiba and Montecristo.

Rum Making

Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean on his second voyage to The New World in 1493.  Sugar cane was difficult to produce in Europe, but responded wonderfully to the warm tropical climate of the islands.  During Cuba's dry season in the month of December, the "Macheteros" harvest the stalks of cane.  (Is it too late for us to change careers and become Macheteros?  Coolest sounding job ever...).  The cane is then ground down into a dark molasses syrup.  Yeast is added and the molasses is fermented, producing alcohol which is then distilled.  The resulting liquor is aged in oak barrels.  It's a very similar process to whisky making, basically substituting sugar for barley.  (For more information about rum making and history than you ever wanted to know, check out

The Line

Havana Club makes a Blanco and a Tres Anos, entry-level and premium light rums, that both
Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos
make amazing mojitos or Cuba Libres.  There is a golden rum which we have not tried called Anejo Especial.  The most popular bottle is the Anejo 7 Anos (7 year) dark rum.  This was our first entre into Havana Club and it's an outstanding bottle.  It should cost around $35-$40.  This week's review, the Seleccion Maestro, steps it up a notch by blending different ages of rum including older barrels.  It's named after the Maestros Roneros - Havana Club's master distillers, led by Premier Maestro Don Jose Navarro.  Havana Club also makes a 15 Year and a "Maximo Extra Anejo" which are difficult to track down.

Tasting Notes

Nose:   Sugar cane, aloe, bamboo, and lemongrass.  Then opens up with cherries and candy apples.

Body:   Oh so sweet & smooth.  It's got a hefty dose of bitter sweet orange rind.  Orange zest if you watch a lot of Food Network.  A hint of black liquorish, and then a tail of lemon.  It's got a hint of smoke and definitely some oak.

Finish:  If you could magically isolate the finish and separate it from the taste, this rum could easily pass as a sweet Speyside single malt.  It's got the smoke!  It's got the warmth and the heat.  But there's a tropical undertone.  Instead of briny cold North Atlantic Ocean air, it's Caribbean breeze with hints of pineapples and coconuts.

The Review

The fact that this is the first non-whiskey review we've ever done should speak for itself.  Havana Club is a treat, made all the more special by its illegal, unobtainable mystery.  There's no peat, and it's not smoky by Islay standards, but it's a beast nonetheless.  The next time you're in the Caribbean, or in Europe, treat yourself.  It's perfect to sip after dinner on a warm summer evening.  The Seleccion Maestro at around $70 gets a big fat "A".  Nice work if you can get it.  /smokybeast

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