With over 15 years of experience in the hospitality on-trade and a passion for all things rum and cocktails, Tommy Cole is the Brand Ambassador to Ron Santiago de Cuba. We talk to Tommy Cole about all things rum and find out more about Ron Santiago de Cuba.
How did it all start?
During the early aughts, I saw myself relocating from Sydney Australia to the cocktail capital of Europe – London. I spent a tenure with CG Bar & Restaurant Group, operators of the well-established Dirty Martini Cocktail Bars nationwide, where I dedicated my time as the Product Innovation & Training Manager for the group, recruiting and training for new sites throughout London and other major cities across the UK.
Having spent the previous 5 years working within the renowned Diageo Reserve portfolio, I am now the appointed Portfolio Brand Ambassador for Ron Santiago de Cuba in the UK.
As an accredited WSET educator within the industry, backed by the expansive range within Diageo and J&B’s portfolio, I continue to drive myself and share knowledge and interest in the craft behind the label – with a key in Ron Santiago de Cuba, continuing to work with the unlimited access to evolving technology, seeking out the thirst for depth and discovery amongst consumers.
Tell us about the portfolio of your luxury rum
The Oriente region of Cuba, in the southeast of the island, has been known as the Cradle of Light Rum since 1862 – and is where our delightful range of authentically Cuban Rum hails, as one of the most respected of its class. Now widely available throughout specialist retailers, and found in partnering cocktail bars, hotels and restaurants across the UK and Europe.
Consisting of four individual expressions, from the dedication of the Maestros del Ron Cubano comes the stunning portfolio of Ron Santiago de Cuba, produced in the oldest houses in which the tradition of light Cuban rum has been maintained.
Following the strictest of traditional practices, we hand harvest our sugarcane via the Macheteros, where we then extract the juices to produce our rich molasses ready for fermentation and distillation in order to maintain its ornate light style.
Our rum is aged in a variety of white oak and ex cask-wine barrels in the celebrated Don Pancho maturation warehouse – known as the ‘Cathedral of Light Rum’. Our Maestros del Ron Cubano are proud of the reserves of barrels used to create our unique liquid, made from 100% Oriente Cuban sugarcane, that transcends consumers expectations of a rum experience.
Tell us why Cuban rum is better than other rums?
Whilst there are certainly some questionable spirits out there, the thrilling aspect of the ever-growing rum category is its diversity and astuteness to always bewilder and excite. There are exceptional new rums of origin, style and finish coming out all the time – and whilst we tolerate to take some bad with the good, the level of some of the more tradition-led sub-genres are particularly outstanding.
Even within the remits of the island itself, we pay respect to the three distinct regions of Cuba and the subtle differentiations in style and finish there-in. From the Occidente region of the upper North-West, through the Centro region into the Oriente of the lower South-East where on the coastline, the city of Santiago de Cuba resides.
Located between the mountains and the Caribbean Sea, our verdant terroir is an unsurpassed microclimate. Here, the sweltering heat of the sun, the humidity of the land and the moist minerality of the sea perfectly entwine, culminating to create the unique optimum conditions for cultivating our exceptional quality sugar cane, enriching the aging process, bringing depth and personality to our unique liquid. Our rums are for those who seek the aroma and taste of Cuba, authentic and impossible to imitate.
What is the key flavour profile that runs through all the rums?
The key to the very essence surrounding the quality of our rums is found right at the source: the quality of our raw ingredients – in particular our exceptional sugarcane, harvested entirely from the Oriente region in the south-west of the island.
This is abundantly clear by way of the high percentage of aguardiente that runs through the very heart and soul of each expression within the portfolio – which itself is instantly recognisable with the unique aroma of fresh cut grass, vanilla, coconut and toasted almond in our younger bottlings.
As we gauge our range of Añejo and Extra Añejos, it is the ultimate skill of our Maestros del Ron Cubano that shines through via the incredibly complex way in which they age and blend a variety of carefully selected mature cask-finishes to produce highly evocative and individual styles.
What food is best paired with your rums?
You know the old proverbial saying – what grows together goes together! I usually take inspiration from the decadence of Cuba during the 1920s – 1950s, paying homage to Cuba’s colourful history by celebrating the best of Cuban cocktail culture, food, art and design – resourcing common ingredients found on the island in order to give these true-to-life classics the bright freshness they deserve!
Cuban dishes are designed to share, featuring classics like the Cubano sandwich built with fatty roasted pork belly – pickled vegetables – ham – mustard & cheese on a soft roll…need I say more? Expect the finest rum cocktails – served just as they are across the island, partnered with Cuban and Latin American inspired plates, such as freshly made ceviche, chicharrones de pollo, gambas criollas, tostadas de pescado y camarones – a true slice of Cuba.
If you were to award a Michelin star for mixology, who would it be to and why?
I would have to honour a gentleman of hospitality who has left a mark on many in the industry, both past and present – the late Richard Arthur ‘Dick’ Bradsell. One of the most influential bartenders spanning many generations, introducing the art of balanced cocktails – guiding and inspiring leagues of bartenders to drive the modern-day cocktail renaissance.
A deep-set advocate of the Daiquiri, his ‘Holy-Grail’ go to cocktail, writing much on the subject and Cuba as a regular contributor to CLASS magazine throughout the years, and renowned inventor of some of most celebrated cocktails known and enjoyed today – including, the Bramble, the Espresso Martini, the Treacle and the Russian Spring Punch amongst over 30 more derivatives.
What are your top tips for preparing rum cocktails at home?
Always look to use quality, fresh ingredients, ideally synonymous to the region of the origin of your choice of rum.
Less is always more – so ensure you choose a quality rum from the get-go, there are few places to hide when producing classic Cuban cocktails as they boast relatively few ingredients, so be sure to invest in something decent, not necessarily high end with a big price tag.
Invest in good quality ice, and lots of it – always expect to have too little, stock up!
Finally, batching ahead of time – ideal for those summer nights of hosting or even a quick rum-fashioned at a pinch at the end of a tiresome day; you do you!
The Daiquiri is an art form. What makes a good Daiquiri?
Again I refer to our dear friend Dick Bradsell and the tireless efforts of Mr. Simon Difford of Difford’s Guide – who between the two of them during the late 90s went on an age-long quest to discover what makes the perfect Daiquiri.
As they both ascertained, in line with the 1948 Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury – there are two main reasons to a poor Daiquiri: the use of an inferior rum and the use of improper proportions.
Several points are to be considered – what are the best ingredients, what’s the perfect ratio, what method or technique is to be utilised…? There is far more to the Daiquiri than simply mixing three ingredients – so to my points made above, ensure you have a good quality rum to hand as this sits at the heart of the cocktail, Ron Santiago de Cuba Carta Blanca has an incredibly rich and oily mouthfeel and makes for a fine choice.
Next, your citrus – I would suggest using soft, ripe and freshly squeezed limes for that addition of bright zesty-ness that is crucial to such a cocktail. To follow, your sugar – I tend to back a rich 2:1 sugar syrup, though the classic calls for spoonsful of caster, this can be harder to retain consistency each time.
Then we have our ice, be sure it is of good quality – clean – and ‘dry’ (i.e., not melting) – this will ensure you have the correct level of dilution and chill factor with every shake & strain!
Finally – the proportion of ingredients. The somewhat standardised ratio, and that which I follow would be a 2:1:1 (rum:lime:sugar), though some favour the ‘countdown’ method of 3:2:1, or the ‘London’ method of 4:2:1… there are many versions on a variable scale for you to try!
What activations do you have coming up that we can come along to?
We recently featured at London’s Cocktails in the City Summer Edition, hosted in the stunning Bedford Square Gardens, where we partnered with Highbury & Islington based Caribbean-inspired cocktail bar Laki Kane and their owner/operator Georgi Radev. If you were lucky enough to attend over the July & August dates, you will have seen as slinging out Soaco Punches in whole coconuts, as well as a delectable frozen Daiquiris to wick-away the 30c+ summer sun!
Upcoming this side of Christmas – we are due to be in Germany for this year’s Berlin Bar Convent trade show, as well as featuring the brand across several of London’s top cocktail bars throughout the duration of this autumn’s London Cocktail Week (13th-23rd October), Don’t forget to secure your tickets for the UK’s very own Rum Fest, which welcomes a wide selection of rum brands of all styles under one roof for consumers to sample.
What is next for Ron Santiago de Cuba?
After a very successful first year in the UK & European Market with the brand, we will only continue to drive the brand to new and exciting heights!
Keep an eye out for our growing Casa del Daiquiri campaign, where we partner with some of the best cocktail bars globally to curate a bespoke twist on the classic Daiquiri in their own image, then featured on menu for you to try.
We are also partnering with NIO Cocktails, which will see several of these creations and many more transformed into beautifully packaged cocktails that can easily be served at home to celebrate any special moment or occasion.
To discover more, visit: ronsantiagodecuba.com
Imagery courtesy of Diageo.