Perfect pairing: Rum and cigar5 min read . Updated: 10 Apr 2015, 04:41 PM IST
East and West Berlin; a major drinks company and an island government; Havana Club and Cohiba; rum and cigars: union is the way forward
I have recently returned from two very different but related trips. The first was a short holiday break to Berlin.
If you’re looking for a fascinating city to visit, one of colour, culture and community, then Berlin is the place. It is a city of contrasts; one half has risen like a Phoenix from the flames of communism, the other half comfortable in its skin of having always been Western.
The contrast is stark, but it works. Like brothers separated at birth, with different upbringings, meeting for the first time and learning to adjust to each other, one as an idealist artist, the other as a capitalist economist, they are slowly learning to embrace once again. Oddly, this pairing works and works very well, and as a pair they are greater than the sum of their parts. Berlin, it seems, is all about the union.
The second trip took me further afield, to a county which is starting to change, the pace of which may speed up very soon indeed. My destination was Cuba, specifically Havana, to indulge in two of their finest and best known exports: rum and cigars, and to try a new product that celebrates both perfectly.
It should also be no secret that, despite the fact that I haven’t written about it much in these pages, I love cigars. At home, I keep a well maintained humidor, currently home to around 25 sticks ranging from some light Montecristo Open Regattas, through to the spicier Romeo Y Julietas; I like to think that I have a cigar for almost any occasion.
Keeping an active humidor is as hard as looking after a pet. You need to tend to it and make sure the cigars are kept at a constant humidity of around 70%, once a week opening the box to give the cigars some real air, turning them to let them breathe.
Looking after the cigars at home is one thing, but finding a time to smoke them is another. I’m not one for smoking for the sake of smoking. I’m not a cigarette smoker; I don’t touch those futuristic electronic things either. Nope, for me smoking is a time to stop, time to think, time for a break, and I have two locations in which to smoke my cigars.
The first is in my garden, where I can relax all year round—in the summer, it is more relaxing than the winter, but the cold winds in the winter months means I just have to wrap up warm. The second place I like to have a smoke is at my writing desk. Reclining in a big leather armchair, slowly drawing the earthy, woody notes of a good Cuban as I plan a piece of writing; it is this thinking time around any good article that provides the foundations for the words which eventually fill a blank page.
But there is one constant to these two main locations, and that is a glass of a good spirit to accompany the smoke.
Usually, my default would be a well aged Scotch or Armagnac, the first carrying big wood extraction (think The Glenlivet XXV, which at 25 years of age is just brilliant with a cigar), the latter delivering less fruit and more spice than a sweet cognac, making it more appropriate for the job in hand.
However, it should be no secret that I love rum, too. And I love rum with a cigar.
Rum is unusual in the spirits world as it straddles both the clear, white spirit end of the category, but also the rich, dark element. This means rum, unlike any other spirit (possibly Armagnac which boasts the little known and under-rated unaged ‘blanche’ variant), can play perfectly in cocktails and, at the higher end of the aged ranges, as an excellent sipping spirit.
Some of the finest rums on the market are the ones produced by Havana Club in Cuba, itself a brand of contrast, but of community, and a brand that has just released their newest expression, ‘Union’, the first spirit designed to be specifically paired with a cigar (the awesome Cohiba Siglo VI).
And it is this history of partnerships that sets Havana Club part from other rums and spirits around the world, for the brand itself, like Berlin, is a coming together of two contrasting sides: the Cuban government and one of the world’s largest drinks companies, Pernod Ricard, to form something that is seemingly greater than the sum of its parts.
It was in November 1993 that a joint venture was established between the Cuban government-owned company Cuba Ron SA, responsible for the production of Havana Club rum, and the French-owned Pernod Ricard Group. In 2007, the joint venture company opened a new rum distillery in San José, about an hour outside of Havana, to produce a style of rum specifically for long aging.
It seems an unlikely partnership, but now with close to 50 million bottles selling annually, the relationship works to such an extent that a move into the super-premium aged rum category has seen the release of the Maximo Extra Anejo, retailing for over $2,000, and now that of Union at a more manageable price of around $350, to support the pouring rums of their three-year-old and seven-year-old.
But the partnership theme doesn’t end here. Union has been developed by two of Cuba’s most passionate characters, Havana Club’s Maestro Ronero, Asbel Morales, and Cuba’s most renowned cigar sommelier, Fernando Fernández. Together they have crafted the perfect partnership of Cuban heritage, tradition and know-how. Asbel Morales has been inspired by the process of how tobacco leaves are aged, blended and matured, to create Havana Club Unión. By selecting small batches of rare rums that have been repeatedly aged and blended, Morales has created a prestige rum that beautifully marries the smooth and powerful flavour of the classic Cohiba Siglo VI cigar.
The liquid itself is masterful, with delicate hints of wood spice, vanilla and dried fruits and a healthy dose of dark chocolate. Quite simply, it is not just one of the best rums I have ever had, but one of the best aged spirits I’ve ever had.
East and West Berlin; a major drinks company and an island government; Havana Club and Cohiba; rum and cigars: union is the way forward, it seems. Viva la revolucion.
Joel Harrison is a drinks writer and consultant and co-founder of the website Caskstrength.net.