The Godfather 2, Fidel Castro, cigars, Scarface and Bad Boys 2. These are the strongest Cuban references I experienced growing up. But more recently, I’ve added Cuban rum to that list.

I’ve noticed that, among Americans, there is a fascination with things Cuban. I have heard of claims that Cuban cigars are the best. I’ve seen posts claiming Americans having spent $100 on a bottle of Havana Club 7 (pre-normalization of relations between the US and Cuba) from the secondary market. Is it really just a matter of a forbidden fruit tasting better? Or is it another part of American culture an outsider just doesn’t understand?

There’s an ongoing trademark war between Pernod Ricard and Bacardi around Havana Club. One of my other favorite rum writers, Paul Senft, wrote a detailed accounting of it. The picture of Havana Club below may confuse some American readers, as they’ve most likely only seen the Puerto Rican Havana Club made by Bacardi. I’ve never had any, but I’m told by other rum geeks that Pernod Ricard’s is better.

Again, I’d like to thank the Cocktail Wonk for his detailed work on making Cuban rum less mysterious. You can see his articles here and also here. The two pieces are pretty damn long, so I’ll just summarize what I think are the main and less technical points.

Cuba adopted a Geographical Indication (GI) for its rum in 2013. A GI basically dictates the regulations for how a product, rum, in this case, is made. The document was apparently written in Spanish so it’s called Denominación de Origen Protegida or DOP. In English, it translates to “Protected Designation of Origin.” Their DOP states that:

1. Cuban Rum must be made from Cuban grown sugarcane.
2. Molasses containing sulfur dioxide cannot be used for the fermentation process. There’s also a mention of a carefully guarded yeast strain.
3. Cuban rum has at least two aging ages. The first part is the aguardiente must be filtered after the first two years of aging.
4. They must be aged in white oak barrels of 180L to 200L.
5. The barrels must have already aged another spirit which will most likely be whisky (bourbon).
6. After the (charcoal) filtration, the rum is blended with high proof distillate to be aged further. Cocktail wonk notes the ff: Premium rums undergo a third aging period. The DOP is clear that this final aging is performed in the oldest, most neutral barrels available. It also highlights the practice of holding back some of each batch, aging it yet again, and blending it into future batches of the same expression. (The Havana Club people told me this is done with Havana Club 7.)
7. Maximum allowed bottling proof is 41% abv. (I guess we now know why they don’t release anything cask strength or any 43%/46% rum.)

Havana Club Añejo 3 year old – review

Bottled at 40% abv, this is available from Master of Malt for £19.45, with The Whisky Exchange also charging £19.45.

Color: very very very pale.

On the nose: Very fiery with undertones of bananas, toffee, caramel and coconuts.

In the mouth: Much more well-rounded as compared to the fiery nose. A mix of bananas, coconuts.

Conclusions

Some of you may be wondering why this is so light in color despite the 3-year age statement. This is a result of the charcoal filtering mentioned above. This is also another reason to scrap the color classification for rum. There are just too many rum producing countries out there that there will be too many different styles of production. It doesn’t work to box in a category of spirits based on its color. In case you missed it, you can see it here. This is also another proof that older does not mean better. I’ve had more and better-unaged rum.

I’m not even going to give this a score. Giving this a score might just ruin it in the eyes of people getting into rum. This is not a sipping rum. This is for cocktails such as Mojitos and Daiquiris and it gets the job done.

Havana Club Añejo 7 year old – review

Bottled at 40% abv, this is available from Master of Malt for £25.45, with The Whisky Exchange charging a few pennies more £25.95.

Color: mahogany.

On the nose: An immediate sensation of fiery molasses and muscovado syrup. Which is followed by some sort of cherry coke after. It suddenly mellows out and gives off flashes of honey, vanilla and cinnamon. There’s a lingering sweet tartness there I can’t pinpoint.

In the mouth: A bit more mellow here compared to the nose. This has a bit of a moderate burn despite the low 40% abv. There’s this lingering tartness again which makes me think of cherries and muscovado syrup. I get hints of toffee and caramel. After more swirling in the mouth, I get some coconut syrup, hints of cinnamon syrup and vanilla. At the end are bits of cloves and peppers.

Conclusions

I remember this being blander and having a lighter flavor. In saying that, I like this much better now. It doesn’t hit the spot in terms of complexity, body and flavor, but it is tasty and pleasant. It will do in a pinch. This doesn’t get talked about much due to the rise of more compelling rum from places like Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados, but this still deserves attention. It’s one of those few unsweetened and primarily column distilled light style rum with an honest age statement in the market. It’s also only $14 too. So, there’s little to complain about.

Score: 4/10

Always read the text at the bottom. Some out there don’t want to tell you that they are making commission from any convenient links if you decide to click and purchase. But we do, if you wish to explore Cuban rum further.

CategoriesRum
John
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Avatar
    David Wright says:

    I’ve always wondered why the 3yo was so light, even when compared to the non aged Especial. Now I know! Everyday’s a school day!!
    By the way, the 7yo is my go to for a Cuba Libre.
    Cheers John.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi David,

      A lot of the “white” rum in the market are carbon filtered. El Dorado 3 is another good example. But this practice is more common in Latin American rum.

      Cheers

    2. John
      John says:

      Gotta say that I haven’t had any soft drinks in a while. We get the corn fructose sweetened coke here. Should I find myself in the where I can get some cane syrup Coke, I’ll get myself a Cuba Libre.

      Cheers

  2. Avatar
    Orly says:

    What kind of Havana Club 7 did you drink for $14? Lol

    Gene Hackman in the movie “The Firm”, described as “You sip it, like Cognac”.

    I know Havana Club 7 and 4/10 IS NOT its rating, the bottle sells between $35 to $40. Your review is a disaster. Lol.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Orly

      Ever considered price differences in other countries? I guess not it seems.

      John is entitled to his opinion on a drink, as are you. But I find many seem to think its much easier to criticise than be constructive or offer context.

      Lol, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Orly says:

        Ok John defender. I’m Cuban from Cuba and I have extensively toured Caribbean rums. I drink since I was 15 and at 55 years of age have tasted a lot of stuff beyond rum. So, I guess I’m also entitled to my opinion. Not many Americans are familiar with Cuban rum nor cigars and any blogger nowadays claims to be a damn expert. Many think Foursquare is drinkable.

    2. John
      John says:

      Orly, prices will depend on location.

      Our mileage varries. You might be someone who thinks JW Blue Label is the best. But for a lot of other people, it’s not.

      Check yourself before you turn into a disaster.

      1. Avatar
        Orly says:

        I’m a Macallan guy. I also appreciate El Dorado 21 and Appleton Estate 21. The Havana Club 7 is an entry level sipping rum; you should try 15 years aged, Tribute and Union or Maximo if you can.

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Orly, the higher end HCs aren’t locally available. I also find the price to be very high compared to the more worth it stuff like Foursquare and OB Hampdens.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Orestes

      I would not place much faith in a retailer site where they want you to make a purchase. For instance, the Glenfiddich Fire & Pain has several 5 star reviews…

      It’s always better to take in several resources.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Duncan says:

        As evidenced by the first three reviews on that MoM link:

        “Hope it lives up to my expectation” 5 stars. “I’m yet to find a better rum to have a rum and coke with. “ 5 stars. “My first introduction to rum. Really enjoyable.” 4 stars.

    2. John
      John says:

      Hi Orestes,

      People’s tastes are usually dictated by their mileage. The bulk of the spirits market still prefer the lightly flavored “smooth” stuff. You see single malt drinkers thinking smooth stuff like Glenlivet are best but clearly isn’t for the drinkers with who have branched out. It’s the same for rum where Bacardi 8 and Havana 7 loved by a lot. But I prefer the funkier and heavier rums from Jamaica or Guyana so I don’t prefer light and boring profiles the 2 above has.

  3. Avatar
    Guilherme says:

    I do agree with the Review. They are both Very ordinary Rums and definetly not for sipping! They cost around 25/20 dollars here (Brazil) and even at that price point there are many better options in the market (any appleton estate for instance).

    Havana Club Maestro is definetly better but costs way too much nowaydays (I used to buy It at 30 dollars and consider It on par with an entrypoint single malt).

    I have a bottle of Bacardi Havana Club Maestro in the bar, its nasty stuff, not recommended.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Guilherme,

      Thanks for the comment. I keep hearing that the HC Maestro is a must try but I don’t feel compelled to try it due to the low abv and high price point. Perhanps when one day when I find a bar that has it.

      Cheers,

  4. Avatar
    Apple Wino says:

    I have a bottle of Especial and a friend shared his bottle of Maestros with me. Both were quite generic compared to the wonderful distinctive rums available from Jamaica, Haiti, and Martinique (to name just a few). The Maestros was definitely better than the Especial though. In both cases the goal seems to be the dreaded “smoothness”.

    Although I have not had the specific ones you reviewed John, my general impression is completely in agreement.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Apple,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, rum from countries you mentioned are more distinct. Guyanese rum also belong in that list. I haven’t had the Especial and Maestros yet. The HC 3 and 7 are just readily available in Manila.

  5. Avatar
    Apple Wino says:

    Given that I live in the States and am subject to the embargo on Cuban goods, I was only able to try the Especial and the Maestros due to the generosity of friends who personally imported them during trips overseas. But I am afraid that even the romance of the quasi-illicit nature of acquisition could not overshadow the quality of the spirit.

    1. John
      John says:

      Ah. That explains why you don’t get the common HCs. I think once someone tastes the more distinct rums the lighter style rum just end up falling flat.

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