By Roberto Campos / Photos by José Tito meriño
Lovers of great sensations can never resist the pleasure of smoking a first class Habano cigar accompanied by a drink of good Cuban rum. It's practically a modern ritual, a truly Cuban event.
Rum is a drink of contrasts, hence the mingling with cigars and Cuban coffee. Its strong and earthy ethyl vapour is immediately dispersed by the sweet memories of its original raw material (sugarcane) and the palate is enriched or, better said complemented, with a good cigar smoke.
An emblematic liquor for parties, presents, and important anniversaries, rum is a classic accompaniment for dancing. African slaves even propitiated their deities with drinks of aguardiente (sugar cane spirit ancestor of rum), while sailors forgot their problems or cheered their souls with this same product. Tradition, constant sampling, refining, and mixing account for rum's great popularity. Rum types range from light, with 45 to 55% alcohol, to very dark, with between 48 and 58%. Cuba and Puerto Rico lead among light rum producers while Jamaica and the Lesser Antilles traditionally produce the latter.
Sugarcane was first introduced in Cuba by Spaniards after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, with sugarcane seeds brought from the Canary Islands in 1493 and, by January 1494, the first plants were born. Of course, this was also the same place and time that tobacco was discovered and the habit of smoking its leaves later spread around the world.
According to chronicles, sugarcane, a plant that originated in Asia, reached plantation level in Cuba in 1501 and the first Cuban sugar mill was begun in 1517. A clear hot liquor used in many slave rituals was produced from the molasses.
Cuba was providing liquor to the world between 1762 and 1792, when the British took over Havana, and this liquor later became the rum we know today. Pleasure and partying are synonymous with Cuban rum. Among the most internationally renowned brands, if not the most famous, is Havana Club. Havana Club, produced chiefly in Santa Cruz del Norte, is among the world's top 25 rums.
Havana Club rum is sold in 125 countries. In 2008, the company produced 3.4 million boxes — a 13% increase in sales.
The Havana Club roster is made up of 8 products: • 2 white rums: Añejo Blanco (Aged White) and Añejo 3 Años (3 Year Aged) • 1 golden rum: Añejo Epecial (Special Aged) with a more complex taste that combines perfectly with cola.
• 2 dark rums: Añejo Reserva (Reserve Aged) and Añejo 7 Años (7 Year Aged) that have more body because of a longer aging period • 2 premium rums: Cuban Barrel Proof and Añejo 15 Años (15 Year Aged), each with its own characteristics revealing the most exquisite Cuban rum tastes • 1 ultra premium rum, with only 300 bottles produced each year, a unique blend of the oldest reserves of rums aged in Cuba.