Cuban light rum appeared for the first time in Santiago de Cuba, around 1862. Then, a "rough and heavy rum" was well-known: Tafia, which was consumed by corsairs and pirates, and it is also necessary to mention the traditional sugarcane, processed without refining its elements. The truth is that since those first moments of this "light" drink, its presence has been inextricably linked to the idiosyncrasy of the island, its artistic manifestations, and even popular healing remedies.
Besides it is "the liquid taste of the Cuban" -as the First Cuban Rum Maestro, José Navarro, has stated- Cuban rum is currently commercialized in more than 120 countries and its exports get four million cases every year, although it is expected to get more than six million by 2020. Perhaps, those are the main reasons for having a visit to the rum factories of Santa Cruz del Norte and San José de las Lajas. Besides being a direct meeting with that industry, it is also a trip to the origins of the Cuban essence.
The first of them –the exclusive producer of the line Havana Club ‘Añejo Blanco’- is among the oldest in the country and is also the larger producer of sugarcane. As the First Maestro Juan Carlos González Delgado explained, these facilities were inaugurated on an old distillery, built in 1919 and nationalized in the sixties. Upon being visited by Fidel Castro in 1971, it was decided to begin an investment process that concluded two years later, following a directive from the Cuban president: building "Cuba's largest rum factory".
Although Santa Cruz's production represents Havana Club's majority sales line, it is under an intense recovery process since the end of 2013 –which most last until 2021- and it includes infrastructure, technology and human capital.
About 30 minutes away is the San Jose rum factory. This is the newest of all Cuban rum factories –it was inaugurated in 2007-, but its facilities store all the necessary bases to be headed to the line of dark rums of Havana Club. Called "the new house of the ancient rum ", these facilities produce three million nine-liter cases a year, with a distillery (capable of processing 30 hectoliters per day), six aging cellars (and two more under construction) and the most recent leading technology.
"This is possible - Cuban Rum Maestro Asbel Morales Lorenzo said- because at the same time the factory received the bases which are reserved for the production of ‘Añejo 7 Años’, new bases were created, and it allowed it to be independent in 2012. From 17 hectares with which this installation began, today it includes 23, and it has become the largest factory for the production of dark rums in Cuba” .
"These storehouses keep all they need to guarantee production levels until 2032. Sometimes people think producing rum is an industrial process. And it is not like that. It is necessary to have a lot of patience and foresight to know how the sales will behave at national and international level and to calculate them correctly, because after 15 years, we will only be able to sell what we are able to dispose of now. There is no time machine”.
"This factory was also designed to repatriate the bottling of dark rums. Some time ago, they were bottled in Spain, and now they are produced and bottled in origin. For Cubans, who always talk about natural and traditional aging, San Jose is an example of how this method can be combined with the most advanced technologies".
During the tours, the President of the Cuban Bartenders’ Association, José Rafa Malém, declared the Cuban Rum Maestros Manuel Calderón and Tranquilino Palencia, members of honor of that society, because of their contributions to the development of the Association and the Cuban culture in general.