Is Cuban Rum the best rum in the world?
October 25, 2020
Cuban rum’s as well as Cuban tobacco, have been a key to the island’s national identity and pumped the blood of its economy for centuries.
Rum connoisseurs worldwide agree that the best rums come from sugar-producing countries. Cuban rums, as the country, have as rich a history. Bringing home a bottle or two of rum has become a rite of passage for travelers to the island. Though finding them may seem easy, and recommendations abound, there are ways to truly experience and learn the array available. We will be happy to assist!
How is rum made?
Rum in Cuba is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar refining. Some producers in Central America make rum directly from sugar cane, but expert agrees that the smokiness and rich flavor of rum produced from molasses is unbeatable. Molasses are combined with water and yeast to ferment, and the resulting liquid distilled in copper-lined column stills. The final step is aging, and Cubans have mastered the art of using the most neutral barrels they can find and blending multiple rums, giving the Cuban rum its unique style.
A bit of history
In the 17th — 18th century, with the high demand for sugar in Europe and the institution of slavery in the new colonies to extensively supply workforce, a triangular trade was established between Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies to help support this need. The circular exchange of slaves, molasses, and rum was quite profitable. In the US, the trade disruption caused by the Sugar Act in 1764 may have even helped cause the American Revolution. Curious fact, Rhode Island rum became so popular in the late 17th century that it was accepted as currency in Europe for a while.
Rum in Cuba then and now
Sugarcane production began in Cuba in the early 16th century. The same tropical weather that makes travel to Cuba such an attraction caused sugar to become the first export during different periods in history. The original brew was not rum as we know it today, but “aguardiente” (literally translated as firewater). Cuban distilleries still produce aguardiente for sale, and it plays an important role in Afro Cuban religious practices and ceremonies.
Some rum producing countries cannot produce enough molasses and must import. Cuban rum has the characteristic of being distilled only from Cuban molasses.
The first developer of Cuban light rum was Facundo Bacardi. Bacardi is a well-known brand worldwide with a complicated history in and with Cuba. A large portion of their trademarks and operations were transferred out before the socialist government confiscated the company assets in the 1960s. For more information, read “Bacardi: The Hidden War” by Hernando Calvo Ospina.
There are 13 rum distilleries in Cuba, Havana Club being the best known. Its parent company, CubaRon, went into partnership with Pernod Ricard in 1993, and the quality and international scope of the brand has since increased worldwide.
Cuban rum brands
The best-known brands are Havana Club, Santiago, Varadero, Vigía, Cubay, Legendario, and Mulata, though there are other not so well known like Perla del Norte.
All Cuban rums are aged 3 years. Several brands have moved on to 5, 7, and in some cases, 15, 20, and 25 years expressions. Cuba RonBest of brands
Though connoisseurs abound in this field, these are considered the top in terms of robust taste, aroma, and flavor.
Havana Club Añejo 7 años
Havana Club Selección de Maestros Triple Cask
Santiago de Cuba Añejo Superior 11 años
Santiago de Cuba Añejo 25 años
Santero Añejo 11 años
Ron Cubay 10 años
Cuban Rum-based Cocktails
You have probably envisioned lying on a Cuban beach in the outskirts of Havana, or beautiful Varadero, with a daiquiri, a mojito, or a piña colada. Cuban rum-based cocktails are delicious, though mind you, you may have to request to hold the sugar or ask for sugar-free cocktails.
Where to find them/Legalities for US travelers
Rum is ever-present in Cuba and can be found in most stores, hotels, the airport, and weirdly enough some times in a cosmetics store or a tiny newsstand. Prices tend to be the same across the board, as rum is produced by state run companies, BUT availability of best brands and aged rums can be scarce. You will need a seasoned concierge or luxury travel agency to assist in locating them. Do not buy rum in the black market or from a well-meaning stranger offering a deal; these are probably counterfeit.
For American travelers, the current legal import limit for Cuban rum is 2 liters. Cuban rum, in general, comes in 700 ml bottles, but some brands like Añejo Reserva Especial have 1-liter versions.
Safe rum tasting/cocktail making lessons in post-COVID19 Cuba
Cuba’s active screening, clinical management, and safety protocols have been exemplary, and the pandemic is now in the low single digits for confirmed cases. Health, hygiene and social distancing protocols have been in place, and hotels and all staff working in tourism are being trained in the industry standards for this new post-COVID19.
We offer private experiences in cocktail making, and rum-tasting, with experienced experts and all industry safety protocols. The rum-tasting experience is a trip through Cuban rum history, covering the range from best known to most obscure, and can be adapted to clients’ preferences.