Black Tears Spiced Rum is a daring new rum distilled with Cuban passion, history and flavours. We explore this expression’s long and unusual journey into being and how it has come to wear its heart on its sleeve.
Cuba is truly a place like no other. As native film director Fernando Perez put it, “there’s a sort of energy that turns every situation into something unexpected.” As you walk down the streets – be it in Havana, Cienfuegos or Baracao – you cannot help but be awakened by the life in every mundanity. Gloriously vibrant peeling paint on houses exposes a palimpsest of optimistic hues below; men lovingly polish pristine Cadillacs next to neighbours mending a fridge from the 1960s; and a guitar player sits against a mural of The Beatles, singing a classic Trova tune. Lack and loss sit side-by-side with a gregarious abundance of feeling and enthusiasm, and it is this very passion and power that Norway’s The Island Rum Company wanted to capture with Black Tears Spiced Rum.
However, to fully appreciate the unprecedented nature of Black Tears Spiced Rum, it is first necessary to take a step back in time.
A bit of history
Rums – along with music and cigars – is a core part of Cuba’s national identity and fuelled the country’s economy for decades, as well as lending itself to the many classic cocktails that came out of the island. Production of the spirit in Cuba can be traced back to the 1650s, although the consumption of fermented “wine of sugar” was popular before this. Whilst Spanish rule backed a competition rewarding those who quickly improved the quality and techniques of rum production, African slaves also spread the tradition of drinking the rough, fermented by-product of the cane they worked with all across the country. This dual identity of Cuban rum’s history went on to cement the spirit’s position as a drink of the people, even as export markets began to blossom.
By the late 1800s, Cuba was a vibrant, rum producing island with many distilleries spread across its terrain. An individual called Don Facundo Bacardi Masso was celebrated for commercialising the now-famous Cuban style of rum, after he formed Bacardi y Compañia with his brother in 1862. Matusalem & Company followed in 1872, with the Arechabala family establishing Havana Club in 1934. Prohibition in the US resulted in a huge boom in Cuba’s rum production, bringing Bacardi and the like phenomenal financial success.
However, the Cuban Revolution soon put an end to that. The new government under Castro nationalised many industries, including sugar cane and rum production. Every distillery was seized and their owners fled Cuba, whilst the government decided to take on Havana Club as its brand name. The collapse of communism in its trading countries within Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1990s led to a serious decline for Cuba’s rum exports. Finally, in 2013 the door was opened for external partnerships by way of Pernod Ricard – the first company to partner with the Cuban government to co-own Havana Club.
16 years later, The Island Rum Company formed a new joint venture (only the second of its kind) with the state-owned Azcuba, with a mission to produce and distribute high quality Cuban rums that can be shared with the world. Once such, is Black Tears Spiced Rum.
Black Tears Spiced Rum
What is it?
Black Tears is the first ever Cuban rum marketed as “spiced” that has been exported to the UK market. The new spirit holds within it all of the country’s tumultuous rum-making history and expertise, and hopes to embody that true, honest and effervescent Cuban character.
Named after the famous bolero-son “Lagrimas Negras” by Miguel Matamoras about love and loss, Black Tears is based on a Silver Dry rum from Heriberto Duquesne Distillery in central Cuba, that has been in development for 10 years. This is largely due to the fact that Cuba has very tight controls over export of its rums and therefore trying to get a Dry Spiced Rum produced, with no sweeteners, flavourings or additives post-production, took time. Luckily for us, however, this time meant that rum’s recipe has been reworked to perfection by Master Blender Martha San Nicolas Lopez, using centuries-old distillation methods and indigenous flavours.
Adele Robberstad, CEO of the Island Rum Company says.
“Cubans express themselves in everything they do. When they create a spirit, it’s an expression of their emotions. When people around the world taste Black Tears, they will want to express themselves, too.”
Black Tears is produced using molasses sourced from four sugar mills in the Ciego de Avila province. The molasses undergoes a double fermentation, the first being a small batch, high temperature blitz for four hours, followed by a large batch, lower temperature vat fermentation for 10 hours. Column distillation (the only type available in Cuba) creates alcohol at around 96% ABV, which is sold off for non-drinking related uses, and Aguardiente (in high 60s ABV), that needs to be rested for a minimum of two years before it can be officially labelled as “rum”. This base rum is then infused with locally grown cacao, coffee and ají dulce (a delicious sweet chilli pepper used in Cuban cooking), to make it a spiced rum.
Whilst most spiced rums are quite sweet, Black Tears is a “dry spiced rum”, with a maximum of 9g sugar per litre (greatly reduced from the 20g/L that Cuban legislation allows). The reasoning for this is that this lower sugar content allows the spices to sing and makes the rum a phenomenal bittersweet sipper and versatile cocktail ingredient.
Tasting Notes – Black Tears Spiced Rum
Very different to most spiced rums out there. Instead of the usual vanilla smack in the face, the bouquet is unusually savoury and earthy with an unexpected vegetal sweetness. Cola sweet bottles, pepper, vanilla, coffee beans, cinnamon bark, chocolate, nutmeg and papaya skin are amongst the first whiffs.
No rush of sugar, just a balanced spice rum that develops on the tongue. Baking spices of nutmeg and cinnamon move towards warm pecans and bittersweet coffee beans. This profile meanders into rich cappuccino topped with cocoa and subtle caramel notes. The sweet, earthy spice comes next with a tobacco sidekick, kept in check by the comforting roundness of the cacao. This is a surprisingly savoury and almost gastronomic spirit (not something we thought we’d ever say about a spiced rum) that screams to be experimented with in cocktails.
There is a whole host of stunning cocktail recipes that need to be tried on the Black Tears website.
It works wonderful in an Espresso Martini and spicy Rum Coffee, as well as in Ian Burrell’s Mujer Negra (recipe below).
50 ml Black Tears
25 ml Sweet Vermouth
Stir with ice and pour over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with oils from and orange peel and a coffee bean.
£34.95. Buy it here from Master of Malt.