We were given an early taste of the latest spirit in the Moët Hennessy portfolio. As you might expect from this luxury goods giant, it’s a little bit special. Introducing from Cuba, Eminente Reserva Rum…
Moët Hennessy is famous for its Champagne bands such as Ruinart, Krug, and Veuve Clicquot but now, according to brand manager Max Helm, “spirits are the way forward” because there’s not much room to expand in Champagne, both in terms of production and sales. So, joining such illustrious names as Belvedere, Ardbeg and Glenmorangie in the company’s portfolio comes a new rum from Cuba.
The company had been looking to produce, in Helm’s words “a very versatile style of rum” about three years ago and so some of the team met with the Cuban government which controls the industry. It was serendipitous timing as the state monopoly, Ron Cuba, had been preparing the groundwork for a premium product, laying down stocks of mature rum. “They really wanted to showcase one end of the spectrum. Something you don’t see coming from Cuban rum and to show off their expertise,” Helm said. We’ve heard from other brands that the Cuban government isn’t that easy to deal with but this rum took only three years from inception to bottling.
It’s a good fit, a Cognac company working with a Spanish rum company as Helm explained: “It’s about working with eau-de-vie, ageing, blending, different barrels sizes.” It was clearly a meeting of minds when the Hennessy team were introduced to the youngest ever Cuban maestro ronero, Cesar Marti. Helm explained: “Cesar Marti is the beating heart behind this. He’s a bit of a prodigy. His family worked in the industry so he understands sugar and soil. But he’s also done a chemical degree so he has expertise in all areas.” His face and signature adorn every bottle.
The production process behind the rum is fascinating and worth explaining in detail. It all starts with 100% Cuban sugar cane. This is grown slowly and only harvested when it has reached “maximum potential” ie. a high sugar content. Sometimes it is allowed to grow for as much as 22 months. It’s then processed using, as is normal in Cuba, somewhat antiquated machinery. This leaves molasses behind with around 54-64% sugar rather than 45% using more modern equipment so you have “a rich base,” as Helm puts it. It’s then fermented quickly for 25-30 hours to give a clean fruity wash.
Then it’s on to distillation which takes place at various facilities around the island. Rum master Marti produces two spirits: a high strength rum of about 95% ABV, and what is known as an aguardiente of around 75% ABV. A good way to think of these two spirits is the first as a grain whisky providing alcohol and helping bring components together, and the second as the more full-flavoured single malt. The aguardiente is aged for two-to-three years in ex-Scotch and Irish whisky ex-bourbon barrels as the Cuban industry cannot buy casks directly from the US. Marti blends the aged aguardiente with fresh high ABV spirit. This blend is then aged for seven years with increasingly older aguardiente added slowly during this time. According to Helm, there are 14 blending processes overseen by Marti. The result has an age statement of seven years, as in Scotch whisky the age of the youngest component, but contains older spirits. The final blend is about 70% aguardiente, most aged Cuban rum is around 18%. Five grams of sugar per litre is added before bottling.
The result is an extremely appealing rum (full tasting note below). It’s very much in the classic Spanish style of being clean, fruity and fragrant but also complex, like Santa Teresa from Venezuela. It will appeal in particular to Cognac drinkers. The sweetness is just right. It has a great depth of flavour mixing fresh fruit like cherries with dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco. It’s a great sipper, but also good in simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned, an El Presidente or Palmetto (mixed half and half with vermouth and served straight up with a dash of orange bitters.)
As you’d expect from LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), the packaging is pretty snazzy too, with the bottle ribbed to resemble the skin of a crocodile and on the label a drawing of the island of Cuba in the form of a crocodile. Helm told me that Cuba has its own unique species of crocodile and the locals refer to the island as ‘el crocodillo.’
Eminente is aimed at spirits lovers rather than rum nerds. Helm thinks it will appeal to whisky drinkers but also to “people who try new gins every week and people during lockdown, who thought I’m not spending money in other ways, I’ll upgrade and spend money on a bottle.”
Moët Hennessy doesn’t always get it right. The company dipped its toe in rum back in 2005 with a product called 10 Cane which was, oddly enough, an agricole-style rum from Trinidad. It seemed to confused consumers at the time because it was “made for sipping but the consumer preference in the US was for mixing,” Helm told me. He also joked that it didn’t taste good mixed with coke which was how most Americans drank their rum. 10 Cane flopped but the market globally has become a lot more sophisticated since then and Eminente is clearly a much better thought-out proposition. Also, I reckon it’ll have no problems with coke. So far though, the launch is quite low key with limited quantities going into the UK, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. There’s also an on-trade only three year old ‘claro’ expression.
It’s not just rum, the LVMH spirits portfolio is expanding in other areas too: a new Tequila brand called Volcan de mi Tierra Blanc has just been launched in the US and Mexico; and in 2017, it bought a bourbon distillery in Washington state, Woodinville, But what about gin? Helm, who has been with the company since 2006, told me that when he joined, “there were all sorts of rumours about Hendrick’s but the gin train left and somehow we didn’t have a ticket!” But now that spirits are such an important focus for the group, Helm said: “There will have to be a gin coming somewhere, but when, how or in what form, I don’t know.” So expect a gin from LVMH in the not too distant future.
Eminente Reserva 7 year old tasting note:
Nose: Lots of cinnamon spice with fresh cherries and a little dried fruit plus followed by dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco.
Palate: Fresh, fragrant and floral, light body, just a touch of sweetness, some pepper, then toffee, chocolate and coffee swing in. With a little smokiness in the background.
Finish: Long and layered with sweet dark chocolate.
Eminente Reserva is now available from Master of Malt.