I visited Havana for the first time last month, part of a wider quest to see all the heartlands of rum. After ticking off Barbados, Cuba, Martinique and Jamaica were in my sights and it was the land of colourful streets, classic cars, and big cigars that opportunity knocked for first. But while I enjoyed soaking up every bit of culture, from the history to the food to the sights, nothing was as thrilling as pulling back the curtain and witnessing the creation of a classic style of rum. And tasting it, of course. If I have any say in the matter, it will not be the last time I see Havana. 

Downtown Havana ©Caleb Krivoshey

I spent several days in beautiful Havana recently

Cuba: rum country

Cuba is a country of rum. Like many of its Caribbean cousins, it has a long history of sugarcane cultivation, which dates back to the 16th century. Its favourable tropical climate and fertile soil (which also equals great tobacco for cigars) meant that quality cane grew here and at one time, Cuba was the biggest exporter of sugar in the world.

With sugar, comes rum. The molasses derived from this sugarcane was of such a standard that the rum it created developed a reputation. This only increased as Cuba became the home of light rum, a refined, approachable spirit that was smooth to the palate and a perfect base for cocktails. The Mojito, the Daiquiri, the Cuba Libre… Many of the biggest names in rum cocktails emerged from this remarkable island. 

Strict government regulations and standards helped solidify Cuba’s rum reputation, and internationally acclaimed brands like Havana Club, Ron Cubay, and Ron Santiago de Cuba did the rest, ensuring Cuban rum is celebrated worldwide. Exceptional craftsmanship, historical significance, and unique provenance: put those together and you’ve got the conditions to create great rum. 

Speaking of which, here are three drinks you need to try in Cuba.

3 drinks you need to try in Cuba

The Canchánchara

I do love a good Mojito and a good Daiquiri. I had both in Havana, because, when in Rome. You should too. But I also enjoyed what is considered by many to be the original Cuban cocktail and something of a forerunner to these classics: The Canchánchara. Said to have been created around the time revolutionaries were fighting off the Spanish, this refreshing drink represents the holy trinity of good, simple cocktail-making: something sweet, something sour, and something boozy. All you need is fresh lime juice, good-quality honey and, of course, a great rum.


50ml Havana Club Añejo 7 Year Old Rum 70cl

20ml fresh lime juice

20ml honey syrup (2:1 recipe)


Create a honey syrup by combining 2 parts honey and 1 part water in a small saucepan, combine For example, if you use 1 cup of honey, you will need 1/2 cup of water. Ensure the honey is dissolved and let it cool before adding it to a glass filled with ice. Add the lime juice and rum, then stir. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Rum and Cola Cuba Libre

The humble Cuba Libre

The Cuba Libre

Cuba is hot. Bloody hot if you’re a fair-skinned Irishman who once got sunburnt on Islay. Refreshing citrusy cocktails are one antidote, but longer, ice-filled glasses of revitalising soda, sugar, and rum really do the trick. That’s where the simple genius of The Cuba Libre cocktail comes into its own. Rum, cola, and a generous squeeze of lime never fails. 


50ml Havana Club Añejo Especial Rum 70cl

100ml cola

1 large lime wedge


Fill a highball glass with the ice cubes. Add your rum and top up with good quality cola (no more than 100ml, we don’t want to drown the rum). Squeeze the juice of a lime wedge into the glass then garnish with another lime wedge.

Pro-tip: muddle the skin of the lime in the bottom of the glass to add greater aroma and a tangy, bittersweet quality.

A bottle of Cuban rum Eminente Gran Reserva 10 Year Old on a barrel

Eminente Gran Reserva 10 Year Old

A good, neat rum

Want to really drink like a Cuban? Well then that means sipping an aged rum (ron añejo) straight or on the rocks. If you’ve developed all those complex flavours, you might as well taste them. You need a high-quality rum for this, one that has developed a smooth and nuanced taste profile, like the following:

Eminente Gran Reserva 10 Year Old Rum 70cl

Intense, elegant, and complex with notes of freshly roasted coffee, honey, vanilla, dried apricot and hazelnut.

Ron Santiago de Cuba 12 Year Old Extra Añejo Rum 70cl

Nutty and rich with good helpings of thick caramel and sweet fruits – think orange segments and dried cherry. 

Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros Rum 70cl

Lots of character and spicy complexity with flavours of, maple syrup, pecan Danishes, ginger, nutmeg, chocolate oranges, cigar leaves, and crème caramel.