A report by Robbie Hodges for London’s Telegraph.
Cubans don’t have much but what little they do have, they savour. At £1,390 a bottle, Havana Club’s new Maximo blend is a fine testament to the Cuban way of life: own less, appreciate more. “It’s part of Cuba’s appeal,” says Tom Marchant, co-founder of travel agent, Black Tomato, citing the country’s current influx of Western tourists as evidence.
Whilst Donald Trump has largely undone the positive changes made by his predecessor, the hangover from Obama’s free market capitalist approach – which saw home-run businesses spring up across the country – is still bringing waves of eager-eyed tourists across the Atlantic. Last year over four million people flocked to the Caribbean island famous for its vintage cars, salsa dancing and cigars, bringing with them a whopping $3 billion of capital – figures expected to rise this year.
But those who have partied at Parque Villalon or spent an evening under the canopy of multi-arts space Fabrica de Arte Cubana in the buzzing heart of Havana know that Cuba is much more than its romanticised yet chequered history. Here is a country on the precipice of modernisation where capitalist enterprise sits expectantly, albeit uncomfortably, within a softening communist regime.
It’s no coincidence that this cultural renaissance correlates with Britain’s so-called “rum revolution”. Rum cocktails? How demodé. Over the past few years the liquor, known in the Central Americas as “liquid gold”, is starting to be appreciated by those with more finely tuned palettes. “Premium rum must be consumed neat,” says Meimi Sanchez, brand ambassador for Havana Club and rum connoisseur. Forget mixing rum, or even drinking it on the rocks: “you might pour whisky on ice but never rum. It weakens the flavour” she explains.
Maximo, crafted from some of the oldest rum reserves in Cuba, is the product of wisdom inherited from three generations of maestros roneros (master rum blenders). Presented in a hand-blown crystal decanter, the drink glows with the warmth of its native land and teases the tongue with its honey-coloured aura. But local tradition throws a few obstacles in the path of those looking to experience the drink in true Cuban style.
“The first measure is offered to the spirit world – to the cheer of ‘para los santos’ – and poured on the floor” says Meimi. Priced at £1,390 a bottle, that’s £97 on the floor: a quite literal splash of culture, wealth and virtue signalling. Next, she advises to “run the rum through your hands and savour the drink’s oily texture before bringing hands to nostril and inhaling its raw, vegetal aroma”. Tastebuds suitably scintillated, before raising glass to lips an intoxicating sniff completes the ritual.
The drink itself is intense. Once it hits the palette, you won’t forget it. It starts as a warm explosion – notes of pear and dried fruit percolate through the drink’s smoky oak base – before melting into a cinnamon finish, the spiciness of which lingers in the mouth long after the drink’s initial heat has subsided. It’s a flavour journey which will leave you wanting to do nothing more than book a one-way flight to the cuban capital.
“Soul” explains Tom Marchant,“is what keeps people coming back to Cuba. It’s a cliché, but it’s true” he says somewhat wearily. Maximo is about as soulful as rum gets. It’s an exciting new addition to the premium rum category, one which packs a punch. Don’t take that as a serving suggestion – with only 1,000 bottles produced a year, it’s best savoured solo, cigar optional.