Cuban history goes hand to hand with rum history as it has influenced the cultural, finance and way of life of Cuban people since it was created. Cuba reclaims the creation and origin of the modern rum, even though there are facts that contradict it, either in Barbados or Brazil where accounts of early production exist.
We visited the Havana Club Museum in Havana and it was a time travel as the influence of sugar cane and rum selling was tremendous in an island that had nothing else to sell to the western world. It was the rum production demand from European colonisers, that created the famous triangle of African slave traffic (triangle existed between Africa Europe and Caribe were money, rum and slaves were in circulation, check here) and created the blend or culture signature that Cuba has today. Cuba is a melting pot of natives, Europeans, and Africans and in some cities like Santiago the mix is so strong that everything, from food, music and colours express that such mixture.
Inside the museum we could learn how the sugar was initially brought by Columbus, how the first destillation called Tapia was very high in Alcohol content and was then decided by the more experienced producers to smooth it and call it Light Rum, after diluting with water. Cubans say they were the first nation in the world to produced the Light Rum, smooth enough to everyone to drink it.
While visiting the museum some characteristics of the production were unveiled and we managed to ask the maximum the guide could answer. Not always the guide knows more than he is programmed to say, but in this case we got lucky:
Raw Material: Sugar cane
Since sugar cane was first harvested there have been more than 150 differente species, and each one has a different impact on the outcome of the rum. The same as the different cereals have in the production of whisky and different cactus have in the tequila, the mix of species used in the production of rum is part of the recipe and is a typical hidden secret.
The destillation process
The molasses, main ingredient in the production is separated by centrifugation and then mixed with purified water and yeast creating a kind of lavado, used for the fermentation process. The destillation is mainly done in column being the pot still for very specific batches, or premium versions. The ageing process is done with barrels used to produce Bourbon from the US that are imported from Ireland and Canada, and they do age all rums produced. After the first 6 months of ageing they filter the rum using charcoal, sand and silica in what they call purification method, and the product is then stored back to the ageing barrels where they stay for a minimum of 2 years. Blending is also very important as only the rum “Seleccion” is not blended, all the others are blended to keep the consistency.
The second part of the visit there is a miniature version of what was the full size distillery working 50 years ago, and it even has the animated train going back and forward. Here we could see the gigantic proportion of the warehouse and destilation department as Cuba was in the 18th century the biggest rum producer of the world. It developed the country, specially in the Trinidad region where the famous Valle dos Ingenios was created with almost 30.000 slaves working in dozens of sugar mills and distilleries. Time of great prosperity that was only stopped when slavery was abolished by the Spanish and latter Sugar acts that started to tax sugar in a way that profit was not so easy to obtain.
Even though today rum production is no longer the oasis of the country rum remains very much part of the culture as it is in Jamaica, their big rivals in rum production. Havana Club is considered the “taste of Cuba”. It’s what they are, a blended refined by different origins with a unique result. This is Cuba, this is Havana Club rum.
No one can desribe it better than the Cubans, watch this brillant short video.