Rapa Nui Experience
While it is true that I have been able to visit incredible places, thanks to the work I do in the rum and the tobacco industries, and that I’ve incorporated those experiences into my cigar and rum pairings for “Got Rum?", it is also true that this pairing has raised the bar incredibly! It is not every day that you get to do a pairing on Easter Island, a sacred place, full of mysticism, and I keep reminding myself that I’m doing what I love.
As part of my professional travel experiences, I often have to visit distilleries and tobacco plantations. I also have the pleasure of participating as a judge at select international rum competitions and I enjoy giving casual and technical classes on behalf of brand owners, either directed at the trade or at consumers. It was the latter activity that brought me to the Hangaroa Hotel, on Easter Island, to be part of sessions on tobacco and distilled spirits aimed at hotel clients and special guests. It was a true honor to be part of the training experience for members of the hospitality and service industry.
After a couple of activities and a tour of the island on the prior day, upon waking up and having breakfast the following, morning I was ready to do the pairing, while enjoying the beautiful view. The cigar I had chosen for this pairing continues an almost- lost tradition of Cuban box-pressed cigars from the early 1900s. I am referring to Puro Limited Edition Flor de las Antillas, from My Father Cigar. This is tobacco grown from Cuban seed and a wrapper grown in full sun at Granja Las Marias, in the Namaja de Estelí region of Nicaragua. This cigar line was released by Don Jaime García in 2012 and is a full flavor cigar that I’m about to put to the test with a Zacapa 23 rum that I have near me.
To be honest, I had intended to use a different rum for this pairing, since I had already used Zacapa a few months back. I was hoping to find a different rum on Easter Island, but it turns out that rum is not consumed that much here. On the contrary, most people who drink distilled spirits on Easter Island prefer Whisky, especially Johnnie Walker Red Label. This is something we will have to change, hopefully the activities like the ones we are conducting as part of this trip will help us make that change. So, for this reason, I reached –once again- for the bottle of Zacapa.
The day is a bit cloudy, the temperature in the high 70’s (F), there is very little activity on the nearby ocean, in the distance I can see several Moais! I can’t imagine a better way to “work”, I can’t think of any place better for the pairing than here on the hotel’s terrace.
Back to the cigar, I selected a Robusto (5” x 50) since it is already becoming one of my favorite formats for pairings, due to its draw and smoking time. The cigar smokes perfectly during its first third, with very creamy notes but with all the richness expected. There are dominant notes of coffee and of good quality cocoa, followed by subtle spicy notes in the after taste, something that is a signature among cigars from My Father Cigars.
I started with Zacapa 23 neat, without ice, but upon experiencing the bold richness from the cigar, I had to lower the intensity of the pairing, to cool things down a bit, something that is easily achieved by adding a few ice cubes to the rum. Others may disagree, but this was my assessment going into the second third of the cigar. By this time, the pairing was asking me for more rum, and the ice allowed for it, while rounding off the pairing as well. Much will depend on where you are when you are smoking and drinking, but here on the terrace the temperature started going up, so it turned out to be a great move.
The cigar is true to my previous experiences with other offerings from My Father Cigar, with excellent draw and very consistent profile during the entirety of the smoking session. No wonder this was elected as the best cigar several years back! I don’t have anything negative to say about this cigar, quite the opposite, it left me completely satisfied.
As far as Zacapa, there is not much to say that I haven’t said in prior pairings. The truth is that it is a flagship for drinkers who like sweet rums, one that has inspired many other rums to follow it. Some people don’t like this particular style of “Spanish” (Brandy/Sherry) rum, but it is very versatile when coming up with pairings. As I sit here typing the pairing notes, on the terrace, watching people jogging by, I notice them staring at me. I am not that much into fitness, but they can see I am enjoying myself as much as they are themselves, me with my snifter, cigar and my laptop. Even a group of wandering tourists went by and took pictures of me! This reminds me a lot of how we closed 2013, smoking while in the ocean waters, cigar in one hand and rum of glass in the other. These are the special moments, as my friend Chef Alan Kallens likes to call them, that define our days.
My time with my cigar is mine and mine alone and no one can take it away. As I look into my past, there are very few moments in my memory that I can call “unique”. I can only imagine that ever y person reading these lines will have them as well. If you ever visit Easter Island, bring some cigars, then have a seat on the terrace of the Hotel Hangaroa and enjoy what I am enjoying. You’ll then be able to say that you enjoyed this experience with me. I can almost guarantee that this will be one of the best cigar experiences you will ever have.
Back to the pairing. It is impossible to describe the experience and not talk about the technical aspects involved. The cigar behaved exactly as expected but, I have to be honest, I feel that for the first time ever, I selected a size that was too short for the occasion. In hindsight I would have preferred a Julieta Number 2 or a Toro, to take even more advantage of the terrace. But don’t feel sorry for me, I am about to head over to my room to get another cigar, I feel like I could write an entire book about pairings from this magical terrace! And as I approached the last third of the cigar, I went back to sipping the rum neat. At first I did it because I had ran out of ice cubes, but it turns out that it actually helped with the pairing. As a photographer I am not very good, so the pictures don’t really tell the full story, but believe me when I tell you that this is a unique place and I hope every person reading this article will have the opportunity to visit the island. Easter Island is full of history, there is also a museum full of Tiki artifacts. I will, undoubtedly, return with rum and tobacco aficionados, so we can all share this experience. I am also thinking about the Chilean Rum Festival and how I think that Easter Island needs to be at the heart of it all.
You can learn more about the hotel and the island by visiting www.hangaroa.cl.
Philip Ili Barake