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From Left to Right: Paul Senft (Rum Reviewer in the Angel's Share section of "Got Rum?" Magazine), Philip Ili Barake (Tobacco & Rum Pairing Reviewer for "Got Rum?" Magazine) and Luis Ayala (Editor and Publisher for "Got Rum?" Magazine)
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Photo by Luis Ayala, Editor and Publisher of "Got Rum?" magazine.
Castaway Photo 1
This cigar is a Double Coronas from Hoyo de Monterrey, from Cuba.
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Photo taken by Paul Senft
Cast Away Photo 2
Whenever I want to conduct a cigar and rum pairing I must wait for the right moment and inspiration. For this month’s pairing I was planning to do the pairing during my visit to Grenada as part of the 2013 Caribbean Rum and Beer Festival. Not only that, but I wanted to incorporate Luis Ayala and Paul Senft from this prestigious magazine. It was not an easy task, as every time we wanted to sit down to light up the cigars we had to change our plans due to the arrival of friends or the opportunity to visit sights around this lovely island. It simply was not working out.
Our time to do the pairing was running out, but at the end we had the best possible set ting to wrap up the year. On our last day in Grenada, we gathered with our friends under the generous shade of an almond tree, something of a tradition for us after concluding our duties with the festival.
Together with our friends, we formed a large circle of chairs and, soon thereafter, the beers started to come out of the cooler, followed quickly by the rum, which we enjoyed mixed with the freshest coconut water, recently obtained a short distance away. The combination of the coconut water and the rum produced a cocktail that was simple, elegant, refreshing and rehydrating at the same time.
Realizing the magnificence of the occasion, I decided to bring out the cigars. This being the last pairing of the calendar year, I wanted to take full advantage to have a long and enjoyable smoke, so I selected Double Coronas from Hoyo de Monterrey, from Cuba. These cigars, released to the market in 2007, have tobacco leaves harvested in 2004. The ring gauge is 49 and the length is 194mm and it features the famous band from Galera Prominente. We had the cigars ready, but were still missing a key ingredient: the rum! Trust me, after tasting around 70 rums during the competition it was very hard to select one for this momentous occasion.
At the end, we opted to simplify our lives. This is, after all, the way things are done in the Caribbean. The first option was a light Bajan rum that was already in the cooler, right next to the coconut water : I am referring to Mount Gay Eclipse. The fresh coconut water combined with the Eclipse to produce a very light drink, perhaps too light to match with the smooth tobacco aromas from the first third of the Hoyo de Monterrey, but the combination was genuinely unique.
When we approached the second third of the cigar, our palates star ted demanding something a bit stronger, so we opted to change our base rums from Eclipse to Angostura 1824 in its new presentation, also kept fresh in the cooler. The rum’s temperature allowed for the ice in our drinks to last a bit longer than normal, given the ambient climate. The alcohol notes from the 1824 were very well balanced at this low temperature, showcasing all the traits typically associated with Angostura rums, such as wet cinnamon and very dark, almost burnt caramel, both perfect companions for the cigar.
There was no better way to do the pairing than submerged up to our chests in the ocean, since the temperature was inviting and the waves low and infrequent. Once in the water, we took turns focusing seriously (believe it or not) on the pairing and discussing the joys of being part of the rum industry. We planned future gatherings, discussed trends and projects and much more. The speed at which each person smoked the cigar varied, as did the influence from the wind depending on the person’s orientation (face, side or back towards the wind). The pairing was perfect for the occasion, allowing us to enjoy both the rum and the cigar.
For Paul this was his first Cuban cigar and he definitely enjoyed it, especially the first two thirds. As he approached the last third it was apparent in his face that his level of enjoyment of the cigar had decreased somewhat. “How far is it OK to smoke the cigar?” he asked me. This was a great question, and the only possible answer was “smoke only as long as you find it enjoyable”. For some people this threshold arrives sooner, for others later, but it doesn’t make sense to go beyond that magical point and risk ruining an enjoyable experience only because we didn’t know when to end it.
Luis and I stayed in the water a bit longer, until we finished the cigars. It was such a lovely experience and I wanted to prolong it as much as possible that I almost burnt my fingers holding the ever-shorter cigar!
It is very clear to me that every time I am back in Grenada I will seek the company of my friends, who’ll probably be already waiting for me sitting down in a circle, under the shade of “our ” almond tree. Hopefully this is the start of a long tradition of cigar and rum pairings for December! In the meantime, I wish you happy holidays, surrounded by your friends and family. I wish that all of us get to enjoy great rums and cigars in 2014!
Philip Ili Barake