Import restrictions are a thing of the past, so we've compiled a list of the must-have Cuban rums to stash in your suitcase. (One of each should do the trick.)
Last month, President Obama lifted the import restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars that have been in place for the past 50 years. Instead of hauling home a mere $100 worth of spirits and smokes, American visitors can now stuff their suitcases with as many bottles of rum and hand-rolled cigars as they want.
The previous lack of access has meant Cuban rums aren’t on the radar of most Americans—we mostly associate the stuff with major exporters like Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. But Cuban rums have particular nuances, says Ed Hamilton, author of “The Complete Guide to Rum” and “Rums of the Eastern Caribbean.”
“They’re typically lighter than either Bajan or Jamaican rums,” he said.
Even if your budget for sippable souvenirs is unlimited, your luggage space certainly isn’t. So which bottles are worthy of a place in your suitcase?
Havana Club Añejo 3 Años
Best For: The perfect mojito
“Havana Club is the hallmark of Cuban rum,” Hamilton said. “And the Havana 3 Year white is the iconic Cuban rum that hasn't been duplicated by another distillery yet.”
The brand became famous during prohibition for their white rum, but what’s consumed today is slightly lighter. Noted for its hint of vanilla, caramelized pear, and smoked oak, the Havana Club 3 Year Old’s flavor is most experts’ favorite base for the perfect Mojito.
Legendario Elixir de Cuba
Best For: A sweet drink
Nurture your sweet tooth with a sip of this. After maturing for two to four years in American oak, Legendario distillers blend this rum with raisin extract. The result: A rich, honeyed finish—far sweeter than any Havana Club, which are all conservative on sweeteners, Hamilton says. If you have a next-level love of sugar, he suggests stepping up the liqueur ladder one rung higher to Legendario's Ron Añejo.
Havana Club Añejo 7 Años
Best For: A classic rum, straight up
If Havana Club is royalty, it’s Añejo 7 Años that wears the crown.
“In terms of sales and quality for price, this bottle is still the king—and an all time favorite,” said Miami-based cantinero Julio Cabrera, a Cuban-cocktail aficionado. The story goes that while the Cuban Maestros often sipped on aged rums at the distillery, it wasn't until one famous maestro, Ronero Don Jose Navarro, bottled the style that the world learned you could sip rum straight. Likened to a fine wine, with flavor notes from Cuban tobacco to sweet fruits and vanilla spices, this bottle should be kept far away from the cocktail shaker.
Legendario Ron Dorado
Best For: A basic, cheap rum
If you want to bring back something a little different, this golden rum is a nice medium-bodied alternative to Havana Club, says Jane Danger, co-author of “Cuban Cocktails” and beverage director at New York City cocktail bar Cienfuegos. And the light sugarcane, tropical fruit notes, and neutral base make it a great mixing rum, says Danger.
Santero Aguardiente de Cuba
Best For: An adventurous cocktail
Aguardiente is the precursor to rum, and the name literally means “fire water.” It’s distilled from a sugary base and often mixed with vegetables or fruits, but on its own, the liquor definitely lives up to the intimidating name. Still, Danger recommends it for rum aficionados because, as she puts it, “This is a weird molasses-driven fire water, and a unique glimpse into the history of rum.”
In small doses, it can add a great kick to your cocktail—try splitting it with another rum as a base in cocktails like the classic Cuban canchanchara.
Havana Club Añejo 15 Años
Best For: A jewel in your rum collection
You'll likely have to hunt for this limited edition bottle, and it'll cost you nearly $200. For some people, that status symbol is reason enough, but Danger says it also happens to be a delicious blend. The liquor is actually both rum and aguardientes—that fiery rum precursor. Both are repeatedly blended and aged in old oak casks, delivering a smooth finish.
“It’s a nice woody aged rum, with notes of raisin and tobacco,” said Danger.
Ron Santiago de Cuba 11 Años Añejo Superior Rum
Best For: A cigar pairing
Aged for more than a decade, people who sip this rum regularly say it embodies the essence of Cuba. But really, it embodies one aspect in particular.
“This is the favorite rum for smokers—its flavor profile is specially designed to pair with Cuban cigars,” Cabrera said. If you want a bottle to reminisce over once back in the States, this is the one to pack.