rums to bring home from cuba

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an article from forbes.


What Cuban Rums To Bring Home: A Short Guide

Joseph V Micallef – 02/16/2019 - Forbes


For American tourists visiting Cuba, bringing home an authentic bottle of Cuban rum has become a rite of passage. Current US customs rules limit returning Americans to two liters of alcoholic spirits. Cuban rum bottles are filled to 700 ml, so the two-liter limit covers just slightly less than three bottles. Many American tourists returning from Cuba have reported that they have had no trouble bringing back three bottles of Cuban rum, in some cases even four bottles, provided that they declare those purchases. This sort of flexibility, however, is strictly at the discretion of the customs officer. This is the second part of a two part series on Cuban rums. For Part 1, see Exploring the World of Cuban Rum

Below are tasting notes on a range of Cuban rums. These are all rums that are readily available in Cuban stores and, with a handful of exceptions, all retail for under $100. If you want to be sure that you are buying authentic products, then you should limit your purchases to government stores. Street vendors often offer some of the more popular expressions, like Havana Club 7 YO, for sale. These are generally legitimate, but there is more risk that you could end up with a fraudulent version. Prices are generally the same regardless of where you shop. Private vendors might throw in a bonus cigar, but otherwise there is not much difference in price.

Samples are usually not offered, so if you want to know what a particular rum expression tastes like you will have to buy a shot at a bar first. The best strategy is to know in advance what you want to buy and to then buy it at the first opportunity. You are not going to improve on the price and there is always a risk that if you are in a popular tourist area, prior tours can clean out the stock of popular rums.

Foreign tourists are required to convert their currencies into Convertible Cuban Pesos or CUC. In Cuba, this is pronounced as a “cook.” Prices in government stores are typically listed in CUCs and in Cuban Peso Nacionale (CUPs). Currently, the official government exchange rate for USD to CUC is 1:1, but exchange fees and taxes reduce that by around 13%.

It’s prudent to have some CUCs on hand but virtually everyone, including government stores, will take dollars, although government stores will impose the 13% fee even if you pay in dollars. Some private vendors, however, will take dollars on a one to one basis with CUCs. You’re better off just paying in dollars—just remember to carry plenty of small denomination bills as smaller vendors may not be able to make change in US dollars on large bills.

Rums To Bring Home
Havana Club is Cuba’s largest rum brand. It offers nine different expressions in its core range. Prices range from inexpensive to ultra-premium priced expressions, which retail for several thousand dollars. It is the best distributed Cuban rum and is generally readily available in both Canada and Europe. If you live in either area, you are better off buying it when you get home than carting a bottle back from Cuba.

Havana Club Añejo 7 YO, 40% ABV, $30
The Havana Club Añejo 7 YO was the first expression released by the company designed specifically to be a sipping rum. This is a rich, robust rum, with a smooth, silky mouth feel and pronounced palate weight. On the nose, it is creamy, with honeyed notes and aromas of caramel, coffee, some tropical spice, dried orange peel and apple and pear notes. On the palate, there are distinct flavors of tropical fruit, along with flavors of milk chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon, along with some sweet tobacco notes. The finish is exceptionally long and intense, but very smooth.

Havana Club, Selección de Maestros (triple cask), NAS, 45% ABV, $50
This is an exceptional rum, attractively priced, and among the most complex offered by Havana Club. On the nose, there are notes of dark caramel and maple syrup, along with tropical spice notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. The palate features sweet, creamy notes of crème caramel, chocolate, candied orange zest and espresso coffee, along with cedar wood and cigar. There is a distinctive saddle leather aroma that hangs in the background. The finish is exceptionally long, with notes of dried tropical fruit, candied orange zest and a hint of cold smoke.

The reference to “triple cask” means that the original aguardiente or madre was blended with 95% ABV cane spirit and then recasked. After additional maturation, the rum was again blended with cane spirit and recasked. This process happened at least twice and perhaps more times.

Havana Club Gran Reserva 15 YO, $150
This is another exceptional rum, though overpriced compared to other Cuban rums of comparable age. On the nose, it has rich fruity, floral and honeyed notes, along with hints of pepper, cinnamon and cloves. On the palate, the rum is rich and robust, featuring notes of dried fruits, like prunes, dates, figs and even a hint of raisin. There are also some baked apple and dried tropical fruit notes. The finish is long and flavorful, featuring notes of brown sugar, dried tropical fruit and tropical spices.

Santiago de Cuba, Añejo Superior, 11 YO, 40% ABV, $40
The Santiago de Cuba rum is a very intense flavorful rum that is more reminiscent of a Jamaican rum. On the nose, it is exceptionally fruity and aromatic, featuring also notes of brown sugar and tropical spices. On the palate, there are pronounced flavors of tropical fruit, including grilled pineapple and green banana, as well as caramel and some intriguing sherry like notes. There are spice notes of cinnamon and cumin and a pronounced black pepper note emerges on the end. The finish is long, fruity and peppery.

There is also a 12 YO version that is slightly more expensive than the 11 YO at around $50. It has the same alcoholic strength and flavor profile. On balance, it seems a bit sweeter and richer than its younger sibling. It offers the same tropical and orange fruit flavors, with a bit more sherry nuttiness. It’s possible that both the 11 YO and the 12 YO experienced some sherry cask aging.

There are also 20 YO and 25 YO expressions of this rum. These are not easy to find but can sometimes be seen at some of the larger government stores in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. They have a similar aroma and taste profile as the 11 YO and the 12 YO, although less intense, but are both exceptionally smooth. The 25 YO is a touch smokier and has more distinctive dark chocolate and seasoned oak notes.

Ron Cubay, Reserva Especial, 10 YO, 40% ABV, $30
Cubay has a distinctive honeyed sweetness, along with notes of brown sugar, peach and vanilla notes. On the palate, there are pronounced caramel and vanilla flavors, along with tropical spice notes of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The finish is long, sweet and offers a persistent vanilla note that lingers.

Ron Mulata de Cuba, Gran Reserva Añejo, 15 YO, 38% ABV, $50
This rum is made from Cuban sugarcane syrup and matured in 180-liter barrels. This is a more concentrated version of the sugarcane juice used by French producers of rhum agricole. This is a smooth, medium bodied rum. It is dryer and more subtle than the molasses based Cuban rums, but still delivers a notable aroma and flavor profile. It is similar to some of the French Caribbean rums in its almost brandy-like quality.

On the nose, it offers aromas of creamy caramel, with a touch of butter, along with notes of dark sugar and a bit of oak. On the palate, the rum offers flavors of tropical fruit, more caramel and tropical spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a hint of smoke. The finish is long, notably dry, with pronounced cinnamon and peppery notes.

If you cannot find the 15 YO, try either the 5 YO ($20) or 7 YO ($25) versions. These offer a similar taste and aroma profile, although they lack the smoothness provided by the extended aging.

Ron Varadero, Añejo, 15 YO, 38% ABV, $50
Varadero is another dry Cuban rum whose aroma and flavor profile is almost brandy like. On the nose, there are notes of dried tropical fruit and raisins, some citrus zest, along with some honeycomb and tropical spices. On the palate it’s dry, however, with notes of dried fruit, orange zest, some lime, along with pepper and some ginger and cardamom. The finish is medium length and distinctly dry.

Note that Ron Varadero was placed on the State department's restricted list in November 2018 and cannot currently be brought into the US. To see what other rums might be on the restricted list consult the State Department's website.

The list above is a good representation of the range of aroma and flavor profiles found in the roughly 70 different expressions of Cuban rums found on the island. Many stores also carry a bottle or two of some ultra-rare expressions priced from $500 to several thousand dollars. These bottles don’t sell very quickly. It’s not unusual for a bottle to stay on the shelves literally for years. If you are interested in buying one of these ultra-rare expressions, you are better off buying them from one of the UK mail order houses like Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt. The price will be slightly higher, but their inventory tends to be fresher and is more likely to have been properly maintained.

Given that future US policy toward Cuba is uncertain, don’t miss the opportunity to taste and to acquire some Cuban rums should you find yourself in Cuba. These are outstanding rums, even if the prices can be a bit on the high side compared to other Caribbean rums.

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