Cuban Rums   

"Desire Under the Palms."
An Old Bacardi Advertising Postcard.
An Old Bacardi Bottle from Cuba.

Cuba has often been called the "Isle of Rum", due to a combination of world famous sugar cane, a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil and the unique know-how of Cuban "Maestro Roneros" (master rum-makers). 
Sugar cane was brought to Cuba by Christopher Columbus who discovered the island on his first voyage to the Americas in 1492. He did not carry sugar cane on his first voyage of discovery, but actually hand carried it as cargo on his return to the "West Indies" a year later in 1493. The cane, which had originally come to Spain from the Far East, grew far better in Cuba's tropical climate. It soon became the island's main crop, making the Cuban planters very rich, and arousing the interest of American sugar planters in the Southern States, leading ultimately to US intervention in the Cuban war of independence from Spain.

The early Spanish colonists extracted sugar from the cane by crushing the stalk and cooking the juice with a little lime to precipitate impurities.
The resulting heavy, black liquid was then poured into clay pots where the sugar slowly crystallised, leaving a dark juice to drain off through a hole in the bottom. Pretty soon they worked out that the molasses could be fermented with water and yeast to produce alcohol, which was boiled off and collected in a still.

No-one is quite sure of the origin of the word 'rum', ron in Spanish. 'Rumbullion', originally a Devonshire term for a great tumult, was already in use as a description for this cane spirit by the late seventeenth century. 'Rummage', an English word for a ship's hold, is another possible candidate. The Latin for sugar is 'Saccharum'.

The English, as they marauded around the mainly Spanish-controlled Caribbean, quickly acquired a taste for the local spirit rum. When they captured Jamaica in 1655, rum was taken on board. They liked what they drank and a daily rum issue or tot soon became Royal Navy practice. The ration was initially half a pint of crude and very strong spirit, with predictable results. By 1740 the rum issue was diluted with water and finally abandoned when the Navy acquired nuclear subs, making the world a safer, if less jolly, place for all.

In 1830 a Spanish wine merchant emigrated from Catalonia to the city of Santiago, in the far east of Cuba. His name, Don Facundo Bacardi y Maso. Bacardi tried something totally new, filtering rum through charcoal to remove congeners, particulate and impurities and also ageing the purified spirit in oak barrels. Bacardi found that this produced a mellow, highly refined rum that eventually became known as Bacardi Superior. He also began distilling rum from a mash of fermented molasses in a copper and cast iron alembic still. However, Bacardi will probably be most remebered for turning barrel aged golden rum back to a clear smooth white rum with his activated charcoal filtering, now the best selling rum in the world, Bacardi Superior.
In February 1862, Bacardi y Compania was established and set the standards for the new light spirit, which quickly became popular in cocktails. The roof of Bacardi's distillery was infested with fruit bats, so Don Facundo's wife adopted the animal as Bacardi's now famous lucky symbol. Many people at the time could not read but could easily recognize the bat symbol, which has since gone through many transformations to today's more friendlier looking bat.

During the 1920s, Prohibition in the United States breathed even more alcoholic life into the Cuban rum industry as Americans poured into Cuba in their thousands in search of legal refreshment. Cuba was by then independent of Spain, but under very strong US influence.

After the revolution in 1959, Bacardi's Cuban assets were seized by the state despite their open support for Castro, and Bacardi's great grandson and head of the company fled the island with his secretary, leaving Mrs. Bacardi behind, but taking with him the rights to the Bacardi name, where the trademarks were deposited for safety in the Bahamas. 
The Cuban government switched its rum strategy to the Havana Club name, founded in 1878 by another rum family, the Arechabalas, who had also fled the Revolution. Havana Club became the main Cuban export brand, and the Cuban government and Bacardi company embarked on a war of words and legal actions against one another, that is still being waged today.

Cuban Rums Biggest Fan, Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway

One cannot talk about Cuban rum without mentioning one of its biggest aficionados, Ernest Hemingway. He loved his cocktails made with Cuban rum, during his many years of living and writing in Havana. He was a big fan of daiquiri's and mojito's, two Cuban classic rum cocktails. He preferred to drink his daiquiri's in the El Floridita and his mojito's in the Bodeguita del Medio. These bars today are tourist attractions and pour their drinks by the jug full to keep up with demand, certainly a far cry from the handcrafted concoctions of Hemingway's era.

Hemingway became the unofficial ambassador for Cuban rum, whether he liked it or not. He preferred to drink alone and undisturbed and liked to go unnoticed in the corners of bars where he could drink his rum in peace and quiet.

Hemingway fans and tourists alike try to retrace his footsteps around Havana today drinking the cocktails he made famous by the gallon. He is still the unofficial ambassador to Cuban rum today, long after his death many years ago.

The Original Bacardi Building, Santiago, Cuba.
Fruit bats found in the original building bacame the Bacardi emblem.
Edificio Bacardi Building in Havana, Cuba.
This beautiful building still has a bat standing guard on the roof.

Bacardi's Origins in Cuba
The Bacardi story in Cuba can be considered as one of innovation, expansion and survival. The story begins in 1930 with the emigration of Facundo Bacardi y Maso from the Catalonia region in Spain, when he was only 14 years old. He settled in the east end of Cuba at Santiago de Cuba, where many other Catalan imigrants had also settled.
Bacardi found a job importing and selling Spanish wine and worked for an Englishman called John Nunes, who just happened to own a small local distillery. While working for Nunes Bacardi decided it was time to try and improve the quality of the local rum or aguardiente. Aguardiente literally means fire water and this is basically what it was, a hot, raw, coarse, harsh liquid usually only drunk by the lower classes. Rum was not to be found in the better drinking establishments on the island. Little had changed in rum production in the country for the previous two hundred years. Bacardi had the idea of changing this and came up with the idea of producing the world's first smooth, clear, white rum to replace the dark harsh aguardientes.
Bacardi experimented with oak ageing, charcoal filtering and different strains of yeast, which was used to ferment the molasses and covert it into alcohol. Fortunately Cuba was one of the world's leading sugar producers, so there was an abundance of fresh molasses available for Bacardi to use. Bacardi's location in Santiago was also fortunate in the sense that the clear waters of San Juan River passed close to the distillery. This was an important natural resource for the company. Don Facundo eventually wanted to produce a rum that was smooth and light enough to be drunk straight, just like a fine wine. He found that if you charcoal filtered the rum it would remove many of the impurities associated with the harsh, raw aguardiente.
On February 4th, 1862, Bacardi, his brother Jose and a French wine merchant put together to buy the small distillery in Santiago for the princely sum of $3500. It came with all he needed to start up his own rum business. It had a copper and cast iron still, fermenting tanks and many oak barrels for ageing the new rum. Pretty soon, they were producing thirty five barrels of rum a day.
Probably the most famous story associated with the purchase of this new distillery was the colony of fruit bats that occupied the roof of the building. Bacardi's wife Amalia decided that the bat was a good luck symbol according to Cuban mythology and that it should be used as the company logo. This was an ingenious idea as many people at the time could not read or write and this would make the rum an easily recognisable brand. The bat has gone through many design changes since the first fierce looking bat, but it is still one of the most recognisable company logos in the world today.
One of Bacardi's three sons, Facundo Jr. planted a coconut palm tree in front of the newly acquired distillery to celebrate the new purchase. As the Bacardi company thrived and grew, so did the coconut tree. It can be seen in many early photographs of the distillery, and even when the distillery expanded around the tree.

The Bacardi Distillery with the Coconut Palm Tree.
An Old Bacardi Poster from Cuba.

The Bacardi company became a family business when Facundo employed his three sons to work in various departments in the distillery. Emilio worked in the office, Facundo Jr. worked in the distillery and Jose worked in sales and promotion.

The smooth, clear, light rum was proving to be a great success in Santiago and the outlying areas. Thirsty customers would arrive at the distillery with empty jugs and bottles to be filled with the popular new rum. The rum even won a gold medal at the Philadelphia Exposition in 1876.

It was around this time that Facundo the patriarch decided it was time to retire and handover the reigns of the company to his three boys and his son-in-law Enrique, who had been also working with the company for many years.

After the United States defeated Spain in the American-Spanish War, Cuba was granted it's independence from Spain in 1901 and became an independent republic.

The company grew from strength to strength and they decided to open a bottling facility in the home of their father, Spain, to serve the European market. In 1919 Compania Ron Bacardi, S.A was opened. This proved to be a huge success for the company. Sales were also doing well in the United States until Prohibition was introduced earlier in 1919 and finally ratified in 1920. This obviously had a negative effect on sales, so the Bacardi advertising department worked overtime to encourage Americans to visit Cuba, which became known as "the unofficial US saloon" and tried to persuade them to "come and bathe in Bacardi". Tourists flocked to the largest island in the Caribbean in their droves, not only to taste the rum but to gamble in the casinos and smoke the world famous cigars.

After seeing how successful the branch of the company was in Spain it was decided to branch out into Mexico aswell, so as to tap into the Latin American market. Bacardi had discovered that they could produce their now famous rum outside of Cuba and still control the quality of the product that ended up in the bottle.

When prohibition was finally repealed in December, 1933, Bacardi Rum had become famous in the United States and Bacardi was quick to open a distribution network there. Their sales after prohibition were impressive, they sold 80,000 cases in the first year. After this initial success the company figured they could make more money if they could avoid the $1 per bottle import duty imposed on imported liquor from outside the United States. A way to circumvent this was to open a distillery on the island of Puerto Rico, which now belonged to the US. The first facility was opened in Old San Juan, which is now partly occupied by their competition Serralles and the Don Q Museum. Bacardi later outgrew Old San Juan and moved over the bay to their present larger location in Catano, where they have developed the largest distillery in the Caribbean.

An Old Bacardi Advertising Postcard from Cuba.
A bird's eye view of the distillery in Santiago.

The opening of the facility in Puerto Rico eventually turned out to be the most important and farsighted decisions ever made by the company. The money they saved on import duties was invested in advertising and enhancing the rum brand, and further down the road this decision enabled the company to continue it's amazing growth after the confiscation of all it's property in Cuba by Castro.

Bacardi joined forces with such giants as Coca Cola and Pan Am to help promote sales of their rum and also started to promote Cuban cocktails like the Cuba Libre and Daiquiri. The Pina Colada also was to be invented in Puerto Rico and became an instant success, things were going well for Bacardi.

However, this was all to change in the late 1950's when the political climate in Cuba was in a state of revolution. The government of President Fulgencio Batista, who the Bacardi family were no fans of, and who was seen as a puppet of the United States by many, was overthrown in the revolution. The guerrilla uprisings were led by Fidel Castro who had began his revolution in the mountains behind the Bacardi distillery in Santiago. The Bacardi family were open supporters of Fidel Castro and even hung banners on the Bacardi Building in Havana after Castro's victory, simple declaring "Gracias, Fidel!". The company even gave workers leave to join the rebel forces of Castro. Vilma Espin, the late wife of Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, was the daughter of a Bacardi accountant and one Bacardi family member even knitted caps and stockings for Castro's rebels. The rebels even issued a decree that the Bacardi facilities were not to be attacked. So it came as a big surpirse to the Bacardi family when Castro and the Cuban government confiscated all of Bacardi's assets and distillery worth an estimated $76 million in 1960.

Fortunately for the company all their trademarks had been mailed to the Bahamas for safe keeping, these could not be confiscated along with their other assets, and this was to prove important for the rebirth of the company.

The Home of Bacardi, Cuba.
Bacardi Workers in Santigo Wrapping Bottles.
An Old Bacardi Advertising Postcard from Cuba.

Havana Club
One of the many legacies Christopher Columbus left behind in the Caribbean was sugar cane. Cuba proved to be the ideal location for it's cultivation, with it's fertile soil, unlimited sunshine and heavy annual rainfall. Although, sugar cane cultivation was slow to take root in Cuba when compared to the rest of the Caribbean. A very short British occupation of the island in 1762 helped increase production and economical awareness to the value of growing sugar cane. By the time the British left, less than a year later, they had more than doubled production. Less than a hundred years later, Cuba was producing more than a third of the world's sugar.
Eventually people found that the byproducts of sugar manufacturing, molasses could be fermented into an alcoholic drink called "ron peleon" or "aguardientes". This was a rough, fiery, raw tasting spirit, most oftenly unfiltered, unaged and undiluted. It was being produced in small batches, from copper pot alembic stills imported from Spain.
The quality of this spirit improved drastically in the 1800's with the introduction of the first attempts at ageing. Pedro Diago, often referred to as the father of Cuban rum, can take some of the credit for this. He apparently had the idea of storing the "aguardientes", or eaux-de-vie, in pots and burying them in the ground. The second half of the 19th century saw the production of a lighter style and more refined rum, now known as "Ron Superior".
This refined rum was developed on the instructions of the Spanish Crown, which wanted a more delicate rum that could "satisfy the court and the elite of the Empire". El Ron Superior is considered by some to be the father of today's Cuban rum, light, smooth, delicate, crisp and perfect for rum cocktails. This rum became so popular that by 1860 there were more than 1,000 distilleries in Cuba.

Industrias Arechabala in Cardenas, Cuba.
An old rum coaster from Jose Arechabala.

Havana Club is the leading rum brand in Cuba today. It was born in 1878 and is now produced by the Pernod-Ricard group in a joint venture with Cubaron since 1993, though the Havana Club company manages all the production.

The original Havana Club was started by a Basque immigrant named Jose Arechabala in the coastal town of Cardenas. He arrived from his native Gordejuela in Vizcaya, Spain at the young age of 15 in 1862. He was full of ambition and was known as a man of character and high moral. Sixteen years after his arrival in Cardenas he went into business for himself by opening a small distillery. The distillery had a distinctive  English style clock tower. Havana Club was introduced in 1935 by the Arechabala family, who continued to make their fine Cuban rum until the socialist troops of Fidel Castro seized the distillery at gun point in 1960. The family members were briefly jailed before they fled to live in South Florida. Unlike the Bacardi family they did not have the money to rebuild their empire overseas and they let the Havana Club trademark licence expire in 1973. The Cuban government quickly seized on the opportunity to register the lapsed trademark and started producing their own version of the famous rum for the Cuban market before starting exports to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. Sales did not take off until their partnership began in 1993 with Pernod-Ricard.

The brand is now recognised all over the world, and sales continue to grow at a steady rate. All their styles of rum are made in a continuous still, that is claimed to be the slowest in the world. According to Cuban law, after distillation all rum must be aged for at least 18 months in 180 litre vats made of American White Oak. This indeed is a an amazing feat considering the present trade embargo between the USA and Cuba. Havana Club selects only the best fresh molasses or "mieles" (literally called "honey" in Cuba) for fermentation. A blend of this molasses, yeast and the purest of water is left to ferment for several days. The "baticion", as this fermented mixture is called, is distilled in column stills to produce the clear, fiery "aguardientes".

After distillation, the "aguardientes" go through the stages of ageing, blending and selection to become "madre" or the "mother" rum base. This base is then blended with a fresh sugar cane distillate to create "ron fresco", which is then successively aged and blended again until the Maestro Ronero decides it is ready for a chosen class of rum. This last act of blending is called the "toque", or the final touch. Throughout the ageing phases, the choice of barrels is very important, as the oak gives colour, aroma and complexity to the rum. The Maestro Ronero chooses old oak to allow the rum to breathe and young oak for it's tannic properties.

Inside the Original Havana Club Warehouse.

Añejamiento (ageing) of Havana Club is based on successive ageing and blending of the rum. All rums in the Havana Club range are aged, hence their name Añejo ("aged"), from young pale rums to aged and extra-aged rums: Añejo Blanco, Añejo 3 Años, Añejo Especial, Añejo Reserva, Añejo 7 Años, Cuban Barrel Proof and Maximo Extra Añejo. The recipes for these rums are closely guarded secrets, known only to the senior Maestros Roneros.

The Maestro Roneros, literally master rum-makers are responsible for every step of the rum-making process, from the selection of sugar cane to the final bottling. They receive about 15 years of training from their seniors and each Maestro Roneros leaves his creations to age, so that future generations may use them to blend better rums in the future.

Farmer Harnesses his Oxen, Cuba, 1940.
( collection)

Cuba's famous sugar cane crop is harvested during the country's dry season in the month of December. The "Macheteros" are responsible for cutting the cane, which is harvested by machine in the easily accessible areas and by hand using the old-fashioned method of cutting with large knife style machetes. Once the cane is cut it is transported to the sugar factories where it is crushed to extract the fresh cane juice. After further processing a creamy black molasses called "mieles" or honey is produced.

The molasses is then purified to clean it of all undesirable elements using only the purest spring water. Yeast is then added to this mixture, and is then called "baticion". The yeast starts the fermentation process and lasts for about thirty hours.

Distillation is the next step after fermentation has finished. Copper continuous stills are used to extract the alcohol from the baticion. The "aguardientes" or the alcohol collected from the distilling columns are then aged in used American oak barrels.

Havana Club is the leading rum brand in Cuba today, selling over one million cases a year in its domestic market. This accounts for about 40% of total alcohol sales on the island. Worldwide, it now sells over three million cases a year, with a large percentage of this total being export to Italy, Germany, Spain and France. The rum is produced in one of the biggest rum factories in Latin America, and can produce up to 30 million litres a year.

Private Bar, Havana Club, Owned by Jose Arechabala
Built in 1720 at Cathedral Square, Havana, Cuba.
An Old Ron Matusalem Label from Santiago de Cuba.
Current owner of Matusalem Dr.Alvarez.

Ron Matusalem
Ron Matusalem can trace it's roots back to the late 1800's when two Spanish immigrants decided to sail for Cuba with the intention of opening a rum distillery. They were Benjamin and Eduardo Camp, who in 1872, along with their partner Evaristo Alvarez established a distillery on Cuba's east coast at Santiago de Cuba, also the home to Bacardi. The company was originally called Camp & Brothers, S.A.
The two brothers and their partner used a closely guarded secret formula to produce their rum. They incorporated their distillation and blending skills and combined it with their knowledge of ageing the rum using the Spanish Solera method, to produce a rum often compared to fine cognac.
The Solera method of ageing was developed in Spain as a way of ageing their famous wines, sherries and brandies, of various ages and characters and maturing them in select oak barrels. This enabled Matusalem to craft products that were not only superior to other rums in Cuba, but were equal in quality to the finest spirits in the world. Solera is a tier system where the oldest rums lay at the bottom of a rack and have progressively younger rums laying above them. Once the rum for bottling is drawn from the oldest barrel at the bottom, this barrel is then topped up with rum from the slightly younger barrel above it. The same happens to this younger barrel, as it is filled from the younger barrel above. Depending on how tall the rack is, this process will be repeated several times. The barrel on the bottom is called the Solera and the layers above are called criadera's.
The name "Matusalem" comes from an old Spanish proverb "Esto es mas viejo que Matusalem" which translated means "It's older than Methuselah". Methuselah is the Old Testament patriarch who is said to have lived for 969 years. This name was chosen to try and impart how many years it takes to produce a fine rum using the traditional method of Solera ageing.
The end product was a far cry from the raw harsh aguardientes that were the norm in Cuba at the time. They had been replaced with a smooth, mellow rum of distinction that would be at home in any upscale tavern. By 1881 Matusalem was winning international awards for excellence.
In 1912 Benjamin Camp returns to Spain, so leaving the company to his brother and Evaristo Alvarez. Alvarez' son Claudio then joins the company and his daughter marries the son of Eduardo Camp. Ron Matusalem truely was now a family company and went from strength to strength with Claudio Alvarez at the helm.
Thanks to prohibition Cuban rum becomes popular with visiting tourists from the USA, who go back home to spread the word about this fine Cuban rum. During this time the company experienced  a period of tremendous growth and by the 1950's had captured 50% of the Cuban domestic market. However, all of this success would change in the 1950's. First, the company's leader Claudio Alvarez and his only son who also worked for the company would both die within the space of six months leaving the company with no effective leadership. Secondly Cuba was in a state of revolution when Fidel Castro renews his guerrilla war against President Fulgencio Batista.
In 1959 Castro takes control of the Cuban Government and begins to nationalize all rum production and in the process confiscates all the assets of Ron Matusalem. The family is forced into exile, and the family owned bussiness is relocated to the United States by three branches of the family.
After many years of family feuding the company was neglected and wandered around the Caribbean looking for a home. The rum was produced in Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and in Florida, at different stages of its new life. It now appears to have found a permanent home in the Dominican Republic, where the company is concentrating on producing premium rums once again, that are as close as possible to its Cuban tradition and roots, the Solera system included. The Cuban government even launched it's own version of Matusalem rum that was produced for a while, but after a legal battle now seems to have disappeared again.


Ron Mulata
Ron Mulata is one of the latest rums to be launched in Cuba and does not have the long chequered history of the other Cuban rums mentioned above. However, there is little useful information available about this rum. It does appear that the rum was launched in 1993 and depending on who you believe, is now the second or third best selling rum in Cuba.
Ron Mulata is a joint venture between Distillerie Franciacorta and Tecnoazucar, the company that supplies 90% of all the Cuban rum. The Mulata range of rums stem from a base rum created by the master distillers or maestro roneros of Tecnoazucar, who use acquavite derived from only the best Cuban sugar cane syrup as a raw material. This rum is then matured in 180 litre American white oak barrels, a process that gives the final product a unique bouquet and light flavour.
The fifty year old distillery of Heriberto Duquesne is located in the central region of Cuba in Villa Clara. It has a capacity of 3,000,000 litres per year with several production lines and employs eighty workers.
Distillerie Franciacorta was founded over a century ago by Luigi Gozio and is still managed by his descendants and is one of the leading producers of grappa in Italy.

Minister of Rum, Ed Hamilton Sampling Ron Vigia.
Ron Vigia is a new Premium Rum from Cuba.

Ron Vigia
The Rumelier came across these premium Cuban rums while attending the Rumfest in London, October 2008. He had the pleasure of meeting the Cuban sales-team and sampling some of this new rum. Accompanying him during this sampling was the Minister of Rum, Ed Hamilton.(pictured left)
During brief discussions with the sales-team, it was found difficult to find out much useful information about this interesting looking rum. Also little information appears to be found anywhere on the net.
While taking a brief vacation to the Bahamas The Rumelier managed to find a liquor store at Freeport International Airport where they had a large selection of Cuban rums. Amongst some of the Cuban rums they stocked were the Ron Mulata and Ron Vigia ranges. These rums were not cheap, like most other Cuban rums. The Ron Vigia Gran Reserva 18 Años was being sold for US$120
Ron Vigia is a fairly recent rum to the market, and appears to being produced by the same people who make the Ron Mulata range of Cuban rums.

Ron Vigia is apparently named after one of Cuba's most famous rum drinkers, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway resided at a farm southeast of Havana in San Francisco de Paula that was called "La Finca Vigia" or "Lookout". His family coat of arms is also displayed on the bottle, that has some similarity to a fish. Beside drinking Cuban rum cocktails, one of Hemingway's other favourite hobbies was fishing for big saltwater fish.

The rum is made from the finest Cuban molasses and aged in white oak barrels and is a limited production rum.

Ron Varadero Supremo Aņejo Label.

Ron Varadero
The little history that is made public for Ron Varadero states that it's founder Don Valentin Perez Fariña was born in Pazos, near the ruins of the Palace of Monterrey at Verin, Orense, Spain.
He arrived in Cuba during the second half of the nineteenth century, in 1898. He became the authentic creator of an exceptional rum, which he baptized with the name "Varadero". He undertook to make a premium rum of fine quality that could be sold outside the island of Cuba aswell as in the domestic market.
The commercial distribution of the rum was an enterprise called "La Compañia Licorera de Cardenas S.A.". This company was owned by Don Valentin. The original distributorship was located on Linea and Princesa Street in the city of Cardenas, Province of Matanzas, Cuba. During the 1930's and the 1940's its distribution was limited to the cities of Cardenas and Matanzas.
Today Varadero rums are produced utilizing the best varieties of available sugar cane on the island. This allows the Maestro Roneros to add the secret yeast formula to the fermentation of the molasses. They follow over a century of tradition passed down by the rum masters of old.

Three Versions of Ron Varadero from Havana.
Ron Varadero Rum Barrels in Cuba.
This Looks Similar to a Solera System of Ageing.

Caribbean Club
Apparently Caribbean Club Rums and Ron Varadero Rums are produced at the same distillery as each other. Wherever you find one of these rums being sold you will likely find the other.
The Rumelier had heard a rumour that the Caribbean Club rums were not being produced anymore, as people were confusing them with Havana Club rums.


La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar

In the western end of Cuba can be found the Guayabita del Pinar tree. It grows nowhere else in the world. As with the development of rum on this Caribbean island, the invention of this unique liquor can be traced back to a Spanish immigrant. These European immigrants often bought with them knowledge of making wines, brandies and other liquors, across the Atlantic and found locally grown products to turn into alcohol.

It is said that the local tobacco growers would take a drink of harsh aguardiente in the mornings so that they could face the cold winter mornings in the plantations, made worse by the cold water on the leaves of the tobacco plants that would soak their clothes. Rather than drink the harsh aguardiente the local farmers in the mountains of Pinar developed a drink made from the fruit of the dwarf Guava tree, the Guayabita. This fruit was collected during the months of July and August from the eight foot tall trees and mixed with vanilla, sugar, caramel, distilled water and rum and soaked in oak chips and aged in old cedar barrels. The concoction is left to macerate for thirty days minimum, enough for the alcohol to be impregnated with the scent and flavour of the Guava. The alcohol is then removed and taken to the ageing cellar where it is aged for three months. This is a relatively short period of time in rum ageing, so that the guava flavour does not become overpowered by the flavour of the wood barrel.

About 100,000 cases of this unique Cuban liquor are produced annually, mainly for the domestic market. This company of course these days has been nationalised and is owned by the Government of Cuba.

It was first produced commercially by the Spaniard, Lucio Garay Zabala, an immigrant from the Basque region of Spain, born in Baguio near Bilbao in 1871. He began producing his now famous liquor as far back as 1892. His secret recipe became known for its digestive and medicinal properties and won many international awards. The distillery that produces the liquor today in Vueltas, is called Casa Garay in honour of the Spaniard.

Unfortunately today the Dwarf Guava is slowly disappearing from the Cuban landscape. This has been caused by the continued development of rural areas and intensive forest expansion in the region. It now only survives in remote, inaccessible, mountainous areas. Local experts from the University Hermanos Saiz have developed a project to halt the decline of the Dwarf Guava and to try and bring it back to the former grassland areas it used to thrive in. The university grown plants now produce about seven or eight times as much fruit as their wild ancestors do annually.


The two bottles pictured have been in The Rumelier's collection for several years. They were given to him by a Cuban national who is now living in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This gentleman used to be a good source for Havana Club Rum. The Rumelier used to buy several bottles of Cuban rum from him at a time and these two bottles were samples given to a good customer.
The Rumelier finally decided to do some research on the bottles to see what he could find out.(see above)
On first inspection of the bottle you will see two small berries floating around in the bottom. It turns out that these are dwarf guava (nana) fruit. The berries come in a golden brown coloured liquor, which is supposedly rum. The berries are not too different from the regular guava, except for their size.
After initially being cautious about this rum, The Rumelier found the actual taste is not bad at all. The tastes of fruit tend to linger for a long time after the initial raw rum taste. By no means is this a rum of old age, but is surprisingly smooth. It would make a good mixer, using various juices rather than soda. It is certainly a unique addition to any rum collection.
Adding spices and fruits to rum is nothing new in the Caribbean, but this certainly is not to be copied anywhere else.

The Award Winning Ron Arecha Label.

Ron Arecha
Jose Arechabala started his distillery in 1879 in Cardenas, Havana. This rum is a tribute to him, which is a little ironic as his distillery was seized and taken over by the Cuban government, so forcing him into exile.
Arechabala was the first person to sell the Havana Club range of rums. Today the company is now owned 50% by the Cuban Government and 50% by the French liquor company Pernod Ricard.
Several years ago the present partners decided to start exporting other rum brands and not just Havana Club. Ron Arecha was one of the brands selected, as it defines what a true authentic Cuban Rum is, made solely from Cuban molasses and rum.
These days Arecha is produced by Union de Bebidas y Refrescas (UBR) and is double distilled and closely formulated to the original recipe as possible. It is aged in oak barrels from "California". It has been described as an artisan and organic rum by its producers. Apparently the label has won awards for its design.

An Old Bottle of Ron Caney.

Ron Caney
Ron Caney is another of the lesser known Cuban brands that has recently started to be seen outside of Cuba. It has been included as one of the Authentic Cuban Rums that the government has started to promote and is exported by CIMEX S.A. The label on the bottles of Caney rum say that the rums are produced and bottled in Santiago de Cuba by CUBARON S.A.
The rum is produced in the former Bacardi distillery, which is opposite the train station near Narcisco Lopez, on the northwestern side of Santiago. Other rums that are produced in the old Bacardi distillery are Ron Santiago, Ron Varadero, Caribbean Club, Paticruzao, Caribe and Ron Matusalem. The factory consists of three sections, the production room, the aging warehouse, where 42,000 barrels of rum are slowly aging, and the bottling section. In total, the distillery produces 9 million litres of rum a year. Approximately 70% of the rum is now exported around the world.
Ron Caney is named after the cone-shaped houses built by Cuba's campesinos, or small farmers. It is produced from sugar cane and molasses grown in Cuba's lush, fertile, tropical south, around the Sierra Maestre Mountains.
There is a small gift shop at the distillery where many different brands of Cuban rum are sold and tasted. There are no longer tours of the distillery, as the tourists were taking too many photographs and stealing the secrets of the rum production!!
Before the revolution Ron Caney was manufactured by Ramon del Collado in Havana.


Trocadero Rum
No useful information can be found about this pre-revolution distillery, other than various pieces of advertising material, three of which can be seen below. The rum was probably renamed and the distillery seized and nationalised like the majority of the others after the revolution.
They do appear to have produced a Rum Superior, Elixir, Banana Rum, Trocadero 1900 Rum, Old Havan Rum 1888 and a Pineapple Rum amongst others. Tours were available for visiting tourists, and it appears to have been a popular tourist destination pre-1960, which is not surprising when you look at the ammount of samples on the tables in the photo shown below.

The Trocadero Rum Distillery Havana, Cuba 1940's.

Ron Legendario
Ron Lengendario is another of the authentic Cuban rums that are being promoted by the Cuban government. Strict production laws have been established as to what is a true authentic Cuban rum. As a result, some rum brands have had to change the age statements on their labels. Havana Club no longer produce a five year old gold rum, as the rum's age stated on the bottle must be of the youngest  rum in the blend.
Age statements on Cuban rum bottles in the past have always been a topic for debate.

A Bahamas guide book ad from 1961.
Campana Rum Factory, Havana, Cuba.
Campana Rum Factory was Owned by United Distilleries Co.
Pre Revolution Street Scene, Cuba.
Old Bacardi Bar Sign.