Two things first come to mind when I think about Cuba—cigars and rum. They are sybaritic goods that reach their respective pinnacles here. Anyone who appreciates those two great pleasures knows that this Caribbean island creates an environment for the perfect marriage between the two.
At the Festival de Habanos this week, an homage to the two iconic products took center stage. Dubbed "Alianza" or alliance, the panelists included one of the best Cuban "roneros," or masters of rum, Asbel Morales, and one of the top cigar blenders from Habanos S.A., Juan José Lopez. Along with the leading cigar sommelier in Cuba, Fernando Fernandez, they put together a tasting of cigars and rum, pairing the cigars and rum in search of the perfect combination.
The lineup was extraordinary. The cigars? A Cohiba Siglo VI, and a Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios, chosen in part this year because the Festival is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the launch of Cohiba. And, the rums? A Havana Club Union and the newly released Tributo 2016, a blend of aged rums built around a base of rums aged in 80-year-old barrels. Each bottle retails for between $350 and $450, depending on the market.
After years of tasting cigars, and a fair amount of time tasting wine and spirits, the pairings of these rums and cigars were, in a word, perfect.
The Havana Club Union is a smooth rum with a solid core of caramel, dried orange and vanilla flavors that linger on the palate, then transform into a light, spicy-and-woody profile with a delicate finishing earthiness. The Cohiba Siglo VI is a well-balanced powerhouse that also has a long finish of earth and leather. Together, the rum and the cigar blended to a perfect smooth finish that didn't seem to stop.
The Tributo 2016, which is the first in what will be an annual release, has a slightly sweeter profile with more robustness than the Unio—spicier and bit woodier. The Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios also has a touch more sweetness on the back of the palate, and to my taste, a slightly stronger wood and leather component on the finish. In other words, the perfect combination with the Tributo.
In the end, my preference was the Havana Club Union with the Cohiba Siglo VI. I found myself picking up the Cohiba VI and walking out of the hall with it, which certainly suggests that I prefer that cigar. And, I've written about Union before, so you all know it is one of my favorite rums. But to experience them together in an official tasting, and to see how well they go together, was a true treat.
Morales, speaking to the crowd of about 400 people, said, "In any marriage there are usually problems, but in this one, there are no problems." Amen.