Cuban rum

21 May 2023 | Discover
Cuban rum

Cuba is for rum an island that is as mythical as it is mysterious. It is legendary for its art of living, of which rum is a fundamental element, for its art of cocktails, for the trace left by Ernest Hemingway. It is mysterious because it is not easy outside of Cuba to understand the process of making and aging rum, its regulations or even its economic organization. We will try to unveil more details about these different points.

At the top, there’s the state!

Yes, the Cuban rum economy is controlled by the state. Two public companies share the distillation of rum: Cuban Ron and Tecnoazucar. They also own or co-own rum brands. For the first one will quote Havana Club and Santiago de Cuba, and for the second, Mulata and Santisima Trinidad.

Alongside these companies, two others, also public, own or co-own brands, without practicing distillation. These are CIMEX and Empresa de Bedidas de Minal. The first holds, for example, Caney and Varadero rums, and the second Legendario. Both of these companies source their rum from the Cuban Ron.

Just below, there is a DOP

Since 2013, Cuba has had a Protected Geographical Denomination (DOP), that sets rules that govern the production of rum. For example, the distillation must be done in a column from molasses produced in Cuba.

An aging technique

According to the DOP, aged Cuban rum must benefit from at least two phases of aging. The first consists in aging the aguardiente (distilled at around 75%) for at least two years, in white oak barrels. At the end of these two years, the rum is passed through an activated carbon filter to eliminate the elements deemed undesirable.

During the second phase, the rum is left to age in an American white oak barrel. It is allowed, to accentuate the light character of the rum, to mix it with highly purified cane alcohol, distilled at 96%. The barrels of the second aging are more patinated than those of the first.

A third phase, which is optional, is reserved for exceptional rums. It consists of emptying the barrels in order to re-oxygenate the rum before casking it again. A portion of these extra-old rums are set aside to be blended for future aging.

The aging of Cuban rums consists of a balance between extraction of aromas from the wood, moderated by filtration and oxygenation of the rum. If the addition of sugar is accepted up to a certain amount, the addition of flavoring is perfectly prohibited.

One of the Santa Clara cellars
César Marti, Maestro Ronero d'Eminente

Then, there are foreign companies

Although the brands belong to the State, some of them are associated with private foreign companies, in particular to ensure their distribution on the world market. Thus, the Havana Club brand is shared with Pernod Ricard, as is the Eminente brand with Moët-Hennessy.

Everywhere are Maestros Roneros

Rum production is in the hands of Maestros Roneros, currently nine in number. These nine people supply a market of approximately 55 million liters of rum.

A Maestro Ronero must have, without exception, approximately 25 years of experience. He must know the entire production process to claim this status and is ultimately designated by his future peers. He oversees the entire production of Cuban rums. In fact, Maestros Roneros work for brands.

The Master Ronero projects new profiles, imagines the future of rum and is the ambassador of Cuban rum abroad. José Navarro, first Master Ronero of Cuba said:

"The Cuban Master Ronero must be able to dream of what someone else must do, he must be a person of science, of law and above all a person of dreams. Whoever does not know how to dream, must not try to be one”
José Navarro
Master Ronero

But above everything, there’s tradition

This is an impalpable idea, written nowhere, that hovers above Cuban rum. This one established itself as a style in its own right in the 20th century, after having shaken up established bastions such as that of Jamaican rum, and thus created a new way of rum. The Mastros Roneros always seek the balance between what Cuban rum represents in history and the future that must be built.

Exchanges with foreign companies make it possible to ensure this balance and to indicate developments in the world market. But it is indeed from the secrecy of the barrels, the secrecy of secular know-how, the secrecy of the columns that the Mastros Roneros always pull Cuban Rum higher.

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Written by ​

Matthieu Lange
Spirits Advisor