Growing up in Miami I had a real love for Cuban food and culture that made me look longingly toward our nearest neighbor to the south. I always wanted to go to Havana and see those beautiful old hotels and bars with my own eyes. Of course, I am a child of the 70’s and the embargo guaranteed that all I could do was look. So, when we finally got the opportunity to visit legally, we jumped at it. I loved our time there, exploring the city, enjoying the food, culture and the cocktails. One of the things I looked most forward to was visiting the Hotel Nacional to sip on their signature cocktail while enjoying a hand-rolled Cuban cigar. That worked out, mostly, until about 30 seconds in when I remembered that even when it is one of the finest cigars on earth, I really just don’t enjoy actually smoking one. My day was much improved, when I gave up the fine stogie and focused on the cocktails and company. It turns out that some things are better in imagination than reality and that is why we experiment, to find what works for us. So with a nod toward that perpetual voyage of self-discovery, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the 100 Year Old Cigar.
This drink comes to us from the amazing Jupiter Disco in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood where it was created by Maks Pazuniak, who describes it as “a delicious cocktail that had no business being on a cocktail menu…” and he is absolutely right. This one is loaded with higher end ingredients that push the cost of making this drink into a realm most managers won’t accept, but you can really taste the difference. So, if you see it out in the world, order it. Just like with my beloved Trinidad Sour, the only way to get these unusual higher end drinks on menus is to show we appreciate and are willing to pay for them. Ingredients matter and since this one was created with a very specific, brand driven flavor profile, we are going with the specific alcohols called out in the original recipe.
Grab your mixing pitcher and toss in 1 3/4 ounces of Ron Zacapa 23 aged rum; 1/4 ounce of Laphroaig Islay Scotch, 1/2 an ounce of Cynar, 1/2 an ounce of D.O.M. Benedictine and a dash of Angostura Bitters. Add some artisanal ice and give it a good stir to the beat of Pink Floyd’s a bit too apropos, “Have a Cigar” before straining into a chilled, absinthe-rinsed coupe. The original recipe calls for no garnish, but I like it with a toasted cinnamon stick on top as a call back to the name, naturally you must do what you feel is right for you.
Isn’t that lovely? It is obviously booze forward, but not unpleasantly so. Getting the dilution right on this one matters, since that added water from the stir opens the scotch and makes it work. Really nice balance across the board. The sweeter rum balancing the bitterness from the Cynar while that Benedictine provides a lovely herbal base that grounds a smoky scotch top note that lingers into an anise finish from the absinthe rinse. It really works for me. I slow sipped this one and noticed it kicked a bit sweeter than I expected as it warmed, but I kind of love when a drink evolves while you enjoy it. This is definitely one to try and even though some of the ingredients are pricier than most places use in cocktails, this one is well worth the price of admission.
I’ve been playing around with ingredients, trying to expand my palate and get a better understanding of why some drinks are tied to specific brands and others follow a broader interpretation. I’m not talking about marketing issues like Gosling’s trademarked ownership of the classic Dark ‘n Stormy. I am thinking more about things like the Industry Sour with its Fernet Branca and Chartreuse base, the Jack Rose that is not the same if you try to replace the Laird’s Applejack with some other apple brandy or the Pink Squirrel which simply cannot be made without Creme de Noyaux. Sometimes it makes sense, there is nothing else in the world that tastes like Drambuie, but with broader categories it takes a little more education. The Guatemalan rum in this drink is a bit sweeter and smoother with a heavier mouthfeel than its Jamaican cousins and it definitely shows up. Same thing with the scotch. That Laphroaig balances perfectly where a heavier peated scotch might overpower things. This drink is a great vehicle for experimenting and understanding why spirit choices matter. Try it with different versions and see just how far these variations range. After all, it is all about learning how things work and as the Viscount du Valmont once said, “Education is never a waste”. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.