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Havana Club Barrel Proof

Review: Havana Club Cuban Barrel Proof Rum   95/100
A review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on December 13, 2009

Havana Club is a Cuban Rum produced by Havana Club International (a joint venture between the Cuban Government and Pernod Ricard) currently produced in two Cuban locations, San José de Las Lajas and Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba. According to tradition the production of the rum which was to become Havana Club began in 1878 when Spanish immigrant José Arechabala established Destileria La Vizcaya in the port city of Cárdenas, Cuba. The distillery remained in the hands of the Arechabala family and in 1934  José’s grandson (also named José Arechabala) apparently created the recipe for Havana Club Rum and began to market it throughout the world. However, the family lost control of the distillery and the brand when after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Cuban Government nationalized the distillery and company.

This Havana Club rum underwent a rather unique maturation process where it is first aged in old white oak barrels, and when the final rum is blended, it is then finished in specially ‘selected’ younger finishing casks. I have heard of this ‘Double Barrel’ approach with whisky, but the Havana Club Cuban Barrel Proof Rum, was the first rums that I know of which used older white oak maturation casks and then younger fresh oak finishing casks.

In the Bottle:  4.5/5

The bottle is packaged in a very attractive beige cardboard box with the bold blue and red Havana Club logo on the front.  The box states that the rum is first aged in Extra Old white oak, and then the final blend is finished in special ‘selected’ finish casks.  I have heard of this ‘Double Barrel’ approach with whisky, but this is first time I have read of the approach used to finish an aged rum.  And I believe it is very unusual to choose young oak for the finishing, and older ‘used’ oak for the initial aging.  A quick check of the Havana Club website expands on this information and peaks my interest. The bottle itself is very attractively labelled, but I am disappointed in the screw cap.  I prefer nice dense cork toppers.

In the Glass:  9.5/10

The rum has a lighter color than I was expecting and a mild reddish tinge.  As I poured the rum into my glencairn glass my nose was immediately swatted with a sweet toffee updraft.  Hints of cinnamon spice compliment the aroma, and I am very pleased with the complete lack of any charred or burnt notes.  This is intense, sweet and clean.  I let the drink sit for just a moment, and a pleasant liquorice aroma reminiscent of Sambuca enters the fray.  I even catch just a smidgen of raw oak sitting at the very back of the nose.  This is marvellous.

In the Mouth: 58/60

Toffee!!  Old style Macintosh toffee.  Remember that stuff from 15 years ago in the red cardboard box.  You had to smack it on the table to break it.  I taste that old style toffee….Yumm!  Cinnamon too…  just a tad, just enough to give the rum a little heat.  This is so good!  Deep in the back of the palate there is a little spicy port wine cigar smoke, and finally traces of oak tannin.  Over the top of all of these flavours is a sweet rum molasses.  This is complex, yet almost perfectly balanced,   one of the finest flavour profiles I have ever experienced. It is hard to let the rum sit in my mouth, I just want to feel it slide down my throat.

In the Throat:  14/15

A silky smooth follow through leaves the mouth heated, and the throat coated with a very gentle oil.  In the throat I feel a nice little bit of that spicy port cigar.  The toffee and cinnamon flavours stay the longest which suits me just fine.  The follow through is incredibly smooth for a 45% spirit.

The Afterburn: 9.0/10

Wow, does this ever deliver!  It is really hard to find fault in the experience, and the fact that I have not even been tempted to visit another rum since I opened the bottle reveals its spectacular character.  The flavours are so intense yet so complimentary to each other that I am truly impressed.  If you folks in the USA have no other reason to lift the embargo on Cuba,  this elixir is reason enough!  (Note that this is not intended as a political statement; it is a Rum Statement!)

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.


Suggested Recipes

I would definitely suggest drinking Havana Club Barrel Proof neat or on the rocks.  The flavour is just that good. But if you are the sort (like me) who will mix even a top notch rum, then I would think we need to keep it simple to allow the rum to shine.

Cuban Cane Harvest
(A Rum and Coke made for sipping)

1 ice cube
1 ounce Havana Club Barrel Proof Rum
1 ounce Classic Coke
a dash of cinnamon

Pour the rum over the ice cube.
Add the classic coke slowly so that it floats up on top.
Sprinkle just a smidgen of cinnamon on the very top.
Do not stir, let the cinnamon and coke slowly melt into the cocktail.
Sip and Enjoy!


You may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)



7 Responses to “Havana Club Barrel Proof”

  1. Ted Carron said

    I have never really been a rum drinker. I usually find it too simplistic and brutal but a friend bought me a bottle of this and oh… I am born again. I now amuse myself forcing it on other cynical and confirmed whisky heads to see their raised eyebrows and hear their grudging concession that here indeed might be worthy companion to the water of life.

    I should say tho that – at least in England – quality rum seems to come at a great deal higher price than quality whisky.

    • Bashaw said

      that is unusual, decent rums usually cost alot less than any decent whisky just to name 2 ED 5 and ocumare añejo

  2. Sandro said

    A peculiarity within the Cuban rum production, as much by the system used as of the sort in itself, that even remembering clearly its origin, distance of the habitual thing in the manufacture of rum in the island. She is one authenticates jewel, enough appreciated stranger and less even, mainly by the North Americans, the reasons that all we know; I create sincerely that it is a unit that would be due to taste without a doubt some by all good lover of the rum.

  3. Johnny G. said

    Oh, Yum , yum, I was so impressed with the boquet, whilst pouring 4 bottles of 7 year old Havana Club down the airport drain at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Sniffing like a bear. Meanwhile the u.s. continues to deal with viet Nam and China, Oh I suppose Ive learned something.

    • A sad tale where politics for good or for evil (depending upon your take on the entire Cuban situation is) has caused such a unfortunate and wasteful experience. Let us hope for better times ahead in Cuban/US relations.

  4. Hi Paul,

    I should point out to my readers that Paul is a recent acquaintance of mine who works at one of the finest Liquor Stores in Edmonton, Aligra, in West Edmonton Mall. Paul is extremely knowledgeable, and he and his co worker Cameron could probably write their own blogs.

    Thanks for the love Paul, and your comments are welcome anytime.

  5. Paul Gifford said

    I was actually somewhat shocked by how much I enjoyed this rum, but I think I must attribute it to the somewhat unique flavour profile, at least when compared to most Cuban rums. It has all of the roundness and almost buttery characteristics of the majority of Cuban rums, but it’s so much sweeter…no question, a gem

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