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Don Kavanagh is the editor of Hospitality magazine.

Don Kavanagh: Viva la revolucion

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If you haven't tried a good rum you're missing a real treat, says Don Kavanagh

Karel "Papi" Reyes loves his rum. Photo / Supplied
Karel "Papi" Reyes loves his rum. Photo / Supplied

It's not often I get to sit down with a genuine Cuban and drink all his rum, so when the chance came up last week I was in there like a robber's dog.

Rum is a lovely spirit, one that is rapidly catching up on whisky for my all-favourite drink.

Some people have a problem with rum, usually stretching back to a youthful indiscretion involving some syrupy old navy rum so dark you'd need a miner's lamp to see through it.

Some of these old rums were pretty potent and also pretty rancid, but well-made rum is stupendously good and also incredibly versatile, offering a great base for a cocktail, a lovely mixed drink or a classy sipper to finish off the evening.

It's also a great warm-weather drink, reflecting its origins in the Caribbean and other such exotic climes.

I caught up with Havana Club's Karel "Papi" Reyes at an eatery in the city on a stinking hot day.

The first thing I noticed was that not only was he wearing a suit but he had a vest underneath his shirt.

Given that I was sweating like a cheese in the stiflingly warm weather, I'd have thought he would have had to agree that it was indeed hot.

No chance. He raised a quizzical eyebrow when I mentioned the heat and suggested that we have some rum instead of wasting time talking about the temperature.

We went through four of the Havana Club range, starting with the gorgeous relatively new addition, 3 Anos, a white rum that is aged in oak for three years after blending, giving it a lovely off-silver colour and a really smooth flavour packed with spice and tropical fruit notes.

It also makes a perfect mojito, or rather Papi did, talking away 19 to the dozen while constructing a superb example in about the same amount of time it takes many of our bartenders to find the mint.

Speed is important in Cuba, he told me, as customers can get a little impatient if they have to wait too long for a drink and he declared that it should never take more time to make a cocktail than it takes to drink it.

Given that he has worked in some of the best bars in Britain and Australia, I'm inclined to agree.

The next two rums were stunners as well. They were the Especiale, a 5-year-old beauty that just screams Cuba, with hints of tobacco leaf and spice all over it, and the Havana 7, a golden rum of such style and sophistication that it should be selling expensive European cars somewhere in Switzerland.

But the pinnacle for me was the Seleccion de Maestros, a tribute to the blender's art.

Beautifully presented and eye-wateringly expensive, it is to rum what the finest cognac is to brandy, a symphony of flavour, balance and elegance.

If your local bar stocks it you have to try it.

The best bit of the whole tasting was Papi himself, a funny, gregarious individual and a genuine Cuban treasure.

A bit like Havana Club rum, really.

- Herald on Sunday

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