Review: Havana Club Rum 3 Years Old, 7 Years Old, and Seleccion de Maestros

havana club

For the third time at Drinkhacker we turn our attention to Havana Club, the essential Cuban rum that many an international traveler (including myself) has come to love. Widely available overseas, Havana Club is not available in the U.S. due to trade restrictions with Cuba. Nonetheless today we turn our attention to three of Havana Club’s expressions — out of a total seven that the Havana-based distillery makes.

The reviews below are of 700ml UK-destined bottlings, and the prices are approximate representations of what you’d pay in a typical duty free shop. As a final reminder, remember that this Havana Club is the original and is completely unrelated to Bacardi’s “Havana Club,” which is made in Puerto Rico.

Havana Club Anejo 3 Anos – At 3 years old, this is the youngest of the distillery’s rums (all Havana Club is at least “anejo”) and the only Havana Club expression bottled in clear glass, letting you see the pale yellow (filtered) spirit within. The nose is fruity with some sharpness to it, with the exuberance and slight funk of a white rum balanced by its share of refinements. Fresh lime is the biggest fruit note here, with hints of grapefruit and blood orange coming along after. The finish is spicy and piquant, offering a touch of hogo that is quickly cleaned away. Excellent as a mixer, Havana Club says this is “made for mojitos,” and it’s easy to see why. 80 proof. B+ / $20

Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos –  The standard bearer of the Havana Club brand, 7 Anos offers a complex nose that, while clearly rum, ventures into exotic notes of polished wood, passion fruit, banana, coconut, and butterscotch. The body features tropical notes, ample vanilla caramel, cocoa powder, some smoky wood fire notes, and plenty of molasses. For kicks I compared this rum to the Italian-bought version of the same spirit (though the bottle has changed a bit) I reviewed in 2010. Very similar, indicating nothing major has changed at Havana Club in the last few years, though I get a bit more cocoa on the palate in the current bottling than the older one. Same rating. 80 proof. A / $30

Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros (pictured) – This “masters’ selection” is triple barrel aged, first in standard oak barrels, after which individual casks are selected and blended and aged further in a second set of barrels. After this round of maturation, the maestros sort through these barrels, pick their favorites, and blend them again in a third barrel, after which the rum is bottled at 90 proof. Sounds like a lot of work (and frankly, not a whole lot of information on either the wood used or the amount of time spent in it), but the results speak for themselves. The nose is intense and deep, a bit of a departure from Havana Club’s usual approachability. The nose includes light smoke, leather, nuts, and charred orange peel. On the palate, the extra alcohol is immediately noteworthy, giving the Seleccion more of a sherried character, along with notes of raisins and plums, incense, cinnamon, and tobacco. It’s a markedly different experience than the 7 Year Old expression, but of equally high quality and just as enjoyable in its own right. A / $60

havana-club.com

Review: Bacardi Facundo Rum Collection

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Bacardi is a name synonymous with rum, but it is not a name that is synonymous with high-end rum. Best known for its unavoidable white rum and a plethora of flavored expressions, Bacardi dominates the market by keeping prices low and consumers inundated with clever advertising.

Now Bacardi is taking its first real steps upmarket. While expressions like 1873 Solera, 8 Anos, and Oakheart are nods in this direction, the Facundo collection is something entirely different: Real, “sipping rums” that you’ll shell out up to $250 a bottle for.

Not a typo.

Facundo is named for Facundo Bacardi, the Spanish-Cuban founder of the Bacardi empire back in 1862. In celebration of 150(ish) years in business, this collection celebrates Bacardi’s legacy with some rums that Facundo would certainly have been proud to have his name on.

All rums are aged expressions sourced from the Bahamas and are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the four-expression lineup follow.

Bacardi Facundo Neo – Made from rums 1-8 years old, then filtered back to white (almost, anyway). Lots of raw alcohol notes on the nose here; it cuts a surprisingly young profile. Hints of orange peel, lemon, roasted nuts, and black pepper emerge after a time. On the palate, quite a different animal, with distinct and strong banana, coconut, and creme brulee notes. Not at all heavy on the alco-burn scale, but rather a delightfully tropical rum that mixes fruit with just the lightest tough of red pepper flake. An incredible mixer, even at this price. A- / $45

Bacardi Facundo Eximo – 10-12 years old, unfiltered. This is the only rum in the collection that is blended before it goes into barrels for aging. Again the nose starts off hot, tempering some of the more delicate notes in the rum. Wait a bit, and what emerges is a woodier experience with the essence of nuts, Madeira, and baking spices. The body again amps up the fruit, particularly the tropical notes of pineapple and mango, swirled with caramel notes. Nutty notes evolve as the finish pushes along, with leather, raisins, and more of those Madeira notes. Unique and fun. A- / $60

Bacardi Facundo Exquisito – A blend of runs 7-23 years old (some filtered) but quite dark in color. The finished blend is aged a further month in sherry casks for a minimum of one month for finishing. This is a remarkably balanced and fun rum, offering an immediate nose of coffee, toffee, cigar box, and mincemeat pie. The body is dense and layered, with notes of plums, raisins, chocolate pie, more toffee, and spiced (lightly smoked) almonds. Lots going on here, and it fires on all cylinders. A real knockout. A / $90

Bacardi Facundo Paraiso – The big guy, made of rums up to 23 years old (with an emphasis on the oldest rums), each individually filtered, then blended and married in French oak casks for at least one month. Deep, down-the-rabbit-hole nose. Brooding and woody, with notes of roasted coffee beans, burnt sugar, coconut husks, and leatherbound books on demonology. The body is a real departure from the sugar-forward rums that precede it. Here we find more of the bittersweet — chocolate, very dark caramel, torched walnuts, and curious notes of olive pits and indistinct savory spices. It’s a much different rum and one that requires more reflection than the pure joy that’s bottled up in the Exquisito, but it’s also a rum with purpose and with a soul. A- / $250

facundorum.com

Review: Cruzan Peach Rum

cruzan peachFruit-flavored rum day continues with this latest release from Cruzan, which clocks in at a mere 42 proof (about the same as a fortified wine).

The St. Croix-based rum operation infuses natural peach flavor into white rum (and lots of water, it seems) to create this light-as-a-feather, gently flavored spirit. Unlike the fruit bomb of Bacardi Mango Fusion, reviewed earlier today, Cruzan Peach is built with restraint in mind.

The nose is more of an apricot-cherry mix than peach, but either way it’s mild and indistinct. The body has clearer peach notes, more canned than fresh, but completely harmless through and through. The body is so light and airy it almost feels like you’re drinking a wine cooler that’s gone flat. The finish is minimal — lightly sweet and unfocused — fading away before you can figure out what you just drank.

B / $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Bacardi Mango Fusion

Bacardi Mango_Fusion_BottleFusion, you say? Turns out all you need are mangos and oranges and they fuse together to power your car.

Ahem, well, Bacardi’s latest flavored rum is this, “Mango fused with Orange” and bottled at 70 proof.

The nose of this concoction lands in a weird zone among tropical, citrus, and cough syrup, sharp and indistinct, but impossibly fruity. The body is a bit more merciful. Initially quite mild, it soon punches you with that same trio of flavors. Lots going on, but it’s the oily orange marmalade character that spreads itself on the thickest. The finish is sweet as candy, the only real indication that this is rum, not vodka. Fair enough as a mixer if you’ve got a sweet tooth.

B- / $12 / bacardi.com

Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum

Phraya_Rum_300“Luxury” rum from Thailand. If the gold-clad bottle doesn’t tip you off, the emphasis is squarely on “luxury.” The name phraya means “high ranking” in Thai, and the rum is aged at least seven years before bottling.

As with Tanduay, another Asian rum, it’s an exotic spirit. The nose has a cachaca-like intensity, filled with dark brown sugar, papaya, coconut husk, and a rubbery undertone. The body is a bit more traditional, offering caramels and butterscotch, and a slightly winey, sherried character to it. Cedar box is evident, alongside some broader coconut character. There are hints of wood — touches of pine — on the finish, along with some not inconsiderable astringency.

On the whole, this is a fun and quite unique rum (if for nothing more than its provenance alone), but probably not something I’ll be dying to tipple on nightly. At $40 a bottle it’s also a really tough sell in a market when some very rare and masterful competitors are available for $10 less. Rum lovers, give it a sample before you dive in.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / phrayarum.com

Review: Starr African Rum

starr african rum

The strikingly-bottled Starr African Rum hails from Mauritius, home to Penny Blue and Pink Pigeon, the only other African rums I’m familiar with.

At first blush, this is a fairly typical white rum. The nose is lightly woody, with notes of coconut, black tea, and caramel. Slightly unusual, but nothing insane. The body really punches things up. Here a more fruity, tangerine-heavy character takes hold, along with a big herbal component. Think anise, cloves, and cardamom. Lots of depth, and it gets more intriguing as it opens up in the glass, the finish folding everything together nicely into an almost punch-like package.

I like it better and better, the more I sip on it.

80 proof. Fair trade certified.

A- / $30 / africanrum.com

Re-Review: Botran Reserva Rum

botran 15 reservaHere’s a fresh look at Guatemala’s Botran rum and its Reserva bottling, which we last considered in 2010.

This solera-aged rum goes through a range of barrel types — American whiskey, sherry, and Port — and is composed of rums aged 5 to 14 years old. That makes for lots of complexity, with the nose exuding coffee, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes. The body offers coconut, rich coffee, tobacco leaf, and a charred, almost burnt sugar finish. There’s lots of depth here, and the full package is quite rich and brooding. Good stuff.

80 proof.

A- / $24 / ronesdeguatemala.com

Review: 7 Sirens White Rum

S7rens_Bottle_CORRECT_002_jpegIf there’s anything I hate, it’s putting numbers into words in place of letters. It’s called “7 Sirens,” but it’s written “S7rens” on the bottle. Ugh. Ssevenrens? I’m ill.

What I do like, however, is good rum, and 7 Sirens is solid stuff.

This new brand is made in Trinidad. It’s two years old, filtered to white. Classic design for a white, really.

The nose is sharp, with a mix of hospital notes and vegetal tones. Hints of sweetness, but more like raw sugar cane. The body is more complex than the nose would indicate, a blend of sugar syrup, vanilla, caramels, and bitter root notes, particularly on the finish. It’s a relatively burly, almost smoky, rum that brings on plenty of body and complexity. Not the best choice for sipping straight, but it adds something to cocktails than many rums lack.

80 proof.

B+ / $29 / 7sirens.com

Review: Captain Morgan White Rum

captain morgan whiteOK, on one hand, Captain Morgan has no business making a white rum. What, someone’s going to go to a bar and ask for a “Captain Morgan White and Coke”? Come on.

On the other hand, why not? Captain Morgan is one of the biggest rum brands on the planet, so why not have the biggest building block of the rum world as part of the stable?

Whether it’s a good idea or not I’ll leave to the market to decide. Here’s how it stands on its own.

Five-times distilled (or so they say) in St. Croix, Captain Morgan White is a perfectly well-made white rum, if a bit short of spectacular. The nose is harmless, with notes of lemon and chili pepper and with touches of rubber and fuel, both typical of younger white rums. The body features classic vanilla caramel notes along with brown sugar, and the finish is quite lemony, ending with a bit more of those fuel notes.

Again, nothing shocking here, but it’s perfectly respectable as a mixer… just like the regular Captain Morgan, for that matter.

80 proof.

B+ / $16 / captainmorganusa.com

Review: Novo Fogo Cachaca

novo fogo Barrel-Aged Bottle F#B9C101

Most cachaca is barely palatable if you don’t dump a ton of lime and sugar into it to make a caipirinha, but Novo Fogo is clearly focused on quality. Using organic ingredients, the distillery produces both a silver and a barrel-aged version of its spirits (the latter is really the best way to experience this unique sugar-based spirit from Brazil). There’s even an extra-aged version called Barrel 105 (not reviewed here), the likes of which I’ve never seen from cachaca.

Thoughts on the two main releases — and a nifty cocktail kit — follow.

Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Rested for one year in stainless steel before bottling. Tropical notes overlay the traditional fuel-focused cachaca nose, heavy on the pineapple, with a bit of lemon underneath. The body is more traditional, but balanced, with some lemon/lime fruit notes, mushroom, cedar box, and a finish of young alcohol notes. Nothing you’re likely to sip on straight, but totally worth pouring into a caipirinha. 80 proof. B+ / $33  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaca – Aged two years in ex-bourbon barrels before bottling. Banana and citrus are evident on the nose, which melds the fuel notes into something more approximating the aroma of coal. The body is quite a different animal, bringing toffee and peanut butter notes to play alongside milder orange character. The finish hints at those heavier alcoholic overtones, but some chocolate touches at the end. Much like a younger, agricole-style rum. 80 proof. A- / $37

Novo Fogo Antiquado Cocktail Kit – This tiny box includes a mini of Novo Fogo’s aged cachaca, a packet of Sue Bee Clover Honey, and a tiny vial of Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters. Mix ’em all up and add ice and you’re done (sans the fancy garnishes on the picture). This is a great little cocktail (and one you can easily make sans the kit), the chocolate playing off the cachaca well, and the honey adding a much-needed sweetness, but of a different type. Can’t find it for sale, alas. It’d make a great stocking stuffer. A- / $NA

novofogo.com