(This is a translation of an article I made about Maximo in the Netherlands. I changed the article a bit for you Rum lovers at Refined Vices).
It doesn’t often happen a Master Blender of a Rum company comes to the Netherlands. If one of the biggest in the world is doing this, we could conclude the Netherlands is becoming an interesting country for the Rum producers.
This meeting was organised by Pernod Ricard to introduce the Maximo Extra Anejo Havana Club into the Netherlands.
At this moment it is the most expensive Rum in the world that is still in production.
The first part of the evening Don José Navarro was speaking to the whole group. The whole evening he was having an interpreter next to him, since Don José can only speak Spanish.
”Good evening. Believe me; I am from Cuba, the cultural capital of the Caribbean. One of the light Rums. Producer of the best Rums in the world, Havana Club. I came here with pleasure to give something of my country to you, the tradition of Cuba. I send greetings to you from all Master Blenders of Havana Club and in my fragile hands I bring you a treasure: Maximo Extra Anejo Havana Club. I want to thank you for being here celebrating and joining me in this tasting.”
According to Don José:
”Maximo has an amber colour that is natural. Havana Club does not use additional colouring in their Rums. The Rum even shines, because it gets an extra filtering at the end before bottling. This Rum has a very complex aroma, but is well integrated as a whole. None of the flavours are dominant, even though the aroma is very strong."
"You can smell nuts in the middle of smooth oak flavours. The Aroma does not give an alcoholic bite in the nose, because it has been ageing for years. You can inhale it without any alcohol reaction in the nose, mouth or throat. This aroma can only be achieved by several levels of ageing, starting from the fresh spirit. This aroma is very rich and keeps on lasting. In the taste you will first find some sweetness, but you will notice that the eventual aftertaste is very dry. Nobody can achieve this but us.”
“A second sip will give you the taste of vanilla and honey, followed by cocoa and chocolate. Then you will get herbs and tobacco. This is like a journey through the fields of Cuba. The taste is strong when you swallow. It keeps lingering. Everything you taste is the natural result of the distillery and the ageing. Which other Rum in the world can give this taste? I think this is a great Rum because it gives my throat a warm feeling.”
"It would be sufficient to just present Havana Club. But there is also the Cuban way of production with different levels of blending. We are putting Rums in this system for more than 1 century. We have a small stock of Rums that include Rums from all previous Rum makers of the last century. Every Rum producer added some of his Rum into this system. Therefore this stock is almost holy to us. We as producers help to keep the memory of Rum alive. A little bit of these stocks are bottled and given the name Maximo. Now you know why there is not just one flavour.
In your hands you now have the eternal memory of Cuban Rum, the ultimate expression of the Cuban culture. Therefore I want to say there was, is or will be a Rum as rich in expressing the Cuban culture as Maximo. To Havana Club, Cuba and the Netherlands. Cheers!”
Don José and I are going to one corner of the room to have a small chat. This is the first time Don José has visited the Netherlands although it was planned to do so before, but plans can change.
He didn’t see much of the country, but by what he saw he thinks the Dutch are very well organised. In his country everything is different from here. Don José says:
”Cubans are the most open minded people in the world. They enjoy life, even when somebody dies. When some years ago one of the Buena Vista Social Club singers died (coincidentally I, Rene, was there) the funeral was one big feast with lots of music.
People had pain in the heart, but the face was happy. The people wanted to show that the person died, but his music will stay for ever. That is the Cuban way of enjoying life.”
After the chat with Don José we decided to have oysters. Don José says he always takes two oysters, because:
”You can’t walk on 1 leg. It is even better to take 3 oysters, because the best table is one with 3 legs. By the way, I have never been served oysters by a woman more beautiful as this one.”
The Memory of Cuba
We eat the oysters and have a second glass of Maximo and a Partagas cigar that Don José took with him from Cuba.
He teaches me how to smoke a cigar like a Cuban; in the corner of the mouth while you keep talking.
Don wants to send a message that says “Maximo is the maximum of Rum.”
This product is a blend of all Master Distillers Havana Club had for the last 110 years. Every Master Blender has put some of his Rum into this blend.
The oldest part is more than 100 years old. At Havana Club they make a new blend of the best Rums produced every decennia. Every 10 years a little bit of this mixture goes into the Maximo.
In a way this is a sort of Solera System (like the one used in ageing of Sherry). The only difference is the interval. Sherry does this every year and Maximo once in a decade. This is why Don José claims Maximo is the memory of Cuba.
10 years after now, the blend will be slightly different. It evolves, but it will always be the max. 36 years ago Don José became a Master Blender for Havana Club. 14 years ago he became the Premium Master Blender, Master of all masters. Every distillery (8) has its own Master Blender.
When we tasted the Rum, Don José said he tasted chocolate and nuts, but not as individual flavours. With Maximo you will find it is one taste. The Rum gives a lot of small notes and impressions. Don José says the Rum is thick but has a full bodied flavour.
According to him there is no Rum you can keep in your mouth for long, because they dry out the mouth. This one is gentle and lingers.
I have to agree on that one, after 2 hours I still had the taste of Maximo in my mouth, despite the fact I had smoked a cigar meanwhile. Don José was really enjoying himself.
The day before somebody asked what he drank the other day. He answered: Maximo! It is not expensive for him, so he has a 10 litre barrel of Havana Club Maximo in his house.
Don José sees Maximo as a journey through the fields of Cuba. Nobody produces rum like Havana Club to get to this quality. Here they only use the continuous still.
Not a standard version, but one they designed themselves in Cuba. They call it the "Cuban Continuous System." Don José found out that the interaction between the copper and the alcohol takes as long as in a normal pot still.
Even though they work with a continuous still, it has the effect of a pot still. This design will never be given to another company. The Havana Club still is made entirely out of copper. This way the alcohol will produce more esters and the end result will be more pure.
There are only 1000 bottles of Maximo produced each year. The rest stays in the cellars. This is better than selling it all at once. In the Netherlands there are only 11 bottles for sale and 1 of them has been used to fill our glasses.
Havana Club has the best sales in Italy followed by Spain, Germany and France. The number of bottles is divided according to the sales numbers in these countries. With an increase of 100% of the sales each year for the last 12 years, there is no reason for Don José to be sad.
René van Hoven (Rumpages.com)
Other articles by René van Hoven:
Mount Gay - The Oldest Rum Brand in the World
Ron Zacapa Part I: Interview with the Master Blender
Ron Zacapa Part II: Solera System Explained
Ron Zacapa Part III: The Evolution of the Packaging