One of the best evenings I had in 2014 was with the fine folks at the Vancouver Cigar Company as we shared a host of genuine Cuban cigars and a terribly fine bottle of Colombian rum courtesy of Juan Santos. Latin music drummed in the background and the machismo energy was on overdrive as we savored the world-class spirits, smokes and slick rides. It was impossible not to remember the year before and the massively brilliant evening shared by hundreds of cigar aficionados.
And it got me to thinking: there's an art to smoking great cigars! Notice my friend Simon Yang, customer service-extraordinaire at Van Cigar Co, and the way he lights this beautiful Cuban tobacco; the time he takes, the attention to detail... every bit as much an artisan as the inspired rum that comes from Juan Santos. I've long been a fan of their work and wanted this chance to share with you the why: why do I love the rum, why are they working so hard and why haven't you tried it yet?
But I can't do that.
It seems that, for all my research skills, I can't find any proof that the distillery for Juan Santos exists. Or, at least, that it exists in Colombia. I started wondering: "Why would the importer not want to link their website to the website of the distillery?" but it goes further than that... they won't even name the distillery, or the name of the family who theoretically own the business. Why would that be?
I know that the label Juan Santos has been created solely for the Western Canadian market and so, should you live outside of that, there is the very good chance that you will never try this rum. Or will you? It turns out that a colleague of mine who writes about rum prolifically was gifted a bottle of aged rum from Cuba. Now he ascertains that the company producing Juan Santos is Casa Santana and they claim to have started their company in Colombia in 1994 - having come from Cuba.
It's a good story and might very well be true and, yet, it immediately raises a red flag: how did a distillery started in 1994 start releasing a 21-year rum in 2012: 18 years later? And how did this colleague of mine, who was gifted the rum from Cuba, end up with a bottle that looked and tasted identical to Juan Santos? The Cuban distillery I speak of Ron Santero and they may very well be the producers of Juan Santos rum. Cuba does, after all, share a bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia.
Well enough of my "Conspiracy Theory"... at the end of the day all I know for certain is that an importer bringing beautiful rum to a population of 10,000,000 people (Western Canada) hasn't figured out that they need to share Who the producer is. As if, somehow, the Who and the Why aren't as important - or even more important - than the What. A shame... I'm betting money that there is a great story in this and one that I sincerely hope I get to share with all of you one day.
For today, I'll let the tasting notes stand on their own. Quality spirits, and quality cigars, are meant to be shared. Indeed, to me, that's where most of the pleasure comes from; seeing a friend, a brother, a colleague, your sister - try something truly special and savor the moment. Every time I've been to the Vancouver Cigar Company I have been wholeheartedly impressed with the consummate professionalism and the unquenchable enthusiasm these master tobacconists display. Their functions are memorable, as was the rum, and I hope I have the pleasure of bumping into you the next time I'm down there.
Anejo 12 anos / aged (for) 12-year
89+ points on its own/90+ points with a dram of water: Very Good Value
... warm caramel and toffee pudding. Summer flowers growing in the garden - the aroma wafts through the kitchen window as you snooze on the couch. These are the kind of inviting aromas that surge from the glass; a plethora of sweet-welcome, like the beautiful girl you dated in college. Slightly hot alcohol hiding beauty; the palate conveys strength and discipline: the (expected) caramel tones warm the tastebuds to open for mineral tones, hints of peach and apricot and the savory edge of Macadamia nut. Very well balanced, with good structure and medium+ length, this has just passed the realm of mixed drinks and entered the "land-of-rocks" because, really, we should only enjoy this just with a glass or "on-the-rocks" with an ice-cube if you must (a dram of water does a better job). For rum aficionados this is a must to show yet another dimension to artisanal rum.
And so what have I learnt through this? I admit, I was a little jealous of my friends and colleagues down at Van Cigar Co when they started talking about the Cuban cigars we were smoking. It seemed like for every cigar that was lit there was a story about "the last trip to Cuba" or "remember when that cigar-roller visited us a few months back?". I was so proud of the fine rum that I'ld brought but had no story to share. Maybe it shouldn't matter! Maybe I should be able to look beyond who made a product and where and just concentrate on the quality of what's in the bottle. Right?
But we human beings aren't like that; we aren't so analytical. In fact we're anything but. We make decisions impulsively and with our hearts. We yearn to hear a fantastic tale of a "David" slaying the mythic "Goliath"... without this human connection consumers are soon left cold and move on. This is a lesson that Van Cigar Co learnt a long time ago and is why, in a sea of non-smoking legislation, they not only survive but continue to thrive. My hope is that other businesses will learn from their success.
Many thanks to The Liber Group for the very generous sample bottle of Juan Santos and to (General Manager) Trevor of the Vancouver Cigar Company for their incredible hospitality. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on: