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Cuban Culture

Cuban Rum: Why It Is Truly First In Class

May 26, 2020

By a seasoned traveler who discovered a rare treasure.

Cuban rum is unrivaled in taste, curation and reputation. Nicknamed “Vitamina R” (vitamin r) by the locals, rum flows across the whole island and is a drink for everyone. Mojitos, Cuba Libres, and daiquiris all earned their fame from the Cuban rum that gives them their kick. The culmination of ingredients grown under the Caribbean sun, processes that are safeguarded by trained maestros (masters) and the magic of the island where it is best enjoyed make Cuban rum alluring and irresistible for all. 

The Secrets of Cuban Rum Whisper Among the Ingredients 

Sugar cane is the well-known foundation to any rum, but the concentrated Caribbean rays from the sun that feed sugar plantations year-round bolster a superior crop in Cuba. Though not native to the island, sugar cane thrives in Cuba’s tropical climate and fertile soil. Soil and weather alter the taste of the sugar adding to the singularity of Cuban rum. 

Cuban Rum: Why It Is Truly First In Class
Soil and weather alter the taste of the sugar adding to the singularity of Cuban rum.

There is one ingredient that does not originate in Cuba, the aging barrels. These barrels store the rum during the aging process and influence the final color and taste of the rum. Cubans use oak barrels from the United States that were previously used for aging bourbon as well as barrels that previously aged Irish whiskey. The flavors from the bourbon and whiskey seep into the oak and season the rum as it ages. 

The Process of Making Cuban Rum Takes a True Maestro 

Cubans are truly artisans of their craft. They have refined and perfected their methods over hundreds of years using the island’s unique resources to produce delicacies that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. Rum is one of Cuba’s many masterpieces and has earned its prestigious Protected Designation of Origin. 

Cuban Rum: Why It Is Truly First In Class
Cuban maestro roneros | Photo via The Wall Street Journal

The rum distilling process begins with the extraction of guarapo (juice) from the sugar cane, which is then carefully boiled into molasses. This thick nectar is combined with yeast and water before fermentation. The resulting product is called vino de caña, which directly translates to “cane wine.”

Next, the liquid is distilled at least four times in copper-lined columns producing aguardiente. The aguardiente enters oak barrels where it ages for a minimum of two years. This timeline is specific to Cuba, and no rum is authenticated without it. After two years, the liquid is filtered through charcoal before enduring a second round of aging in a different barrel or moving to the blending process. The blending process is safeguarded by maestros roneros (rum masters). Maestros roneros at Havana Club, one of Cuba’s largest brands of rum, earn their jobs after training for upwards of fifteen years with other maestros roneros. The cultural legacy is passed from Cuban to Cuban, veiling additional secrets from the world.

Each brand may use different blends and aging periods, but the bottled result is uniformly perfect. Apricot, vanilla and caramel hint in your glass. Aggressive or light, the rum is sure to warm you from the inside. But beyond the distinguished taste, it is the magic that hums throughout Cuba that tops off your authentic glass of Cuban rum. The rich aroma of smoky cloves and cumin blend with the island air to form a more fragrant bouquet. An unmatched view from a Havana rooftop at sunset and sounds of rumba echoing below form the perfect setting to pair with your glass of Cuban rum. 

Cuba Candela offers a rooftop tasting led by local hosts who provide a history of the major rum producers and divulge the unwritten rules of drinking rum like a Cuban. Savor the tradition in each sip and lose yourself in the moment.


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