Rum played an important role in my recent trip to Cuba. First of all it was plentiful. Second, it was unobtainable. Let me explain. Every stop we made, be it a roadside rest stop, restaurant or hotel, we were offered an opportunity have a cocktail made with rum. Our group, twenty-four mostly “young” retired individuals, embraced the rum drinking and truly enjoyed ourselves. But rum was also the “forbidden fruit.” As Americans, we were not allowed to bring rum back into the country. As our Cuban-American tour guide said, “Enjoy your rum in Cuba.” Enjoy we did. I began to ask myself if it was the fun of being on a road trip through Cuba that made the rum taste so good, or was it good because we couldn’t take any home? Or was the rum just better in Cuba? A little research ensued and this is what I discovered: Rum is made from the distillation of sugar cane. The fertile Cuban soil and ideal growing climate make sugar cane truly suitable for growth on the island. The sugar cane first must be pressed to release the juice. Then the sugar cane juice is boiled to become molasses. After that, the molasses, yeast and water are added to start the fermentation* process. Various strains of yeast are used in the making of rum, and yeast can determine the various flavors of rum. The rum is then distilled** and is aged in casks. Cuban law dictates that the rum must be aged for at least 18 months in vats made from American White Oak. This is an amazing feat since there has been a trade embargo with the United States for decades. The climate, soil, ageing and yeast all contribute to the fine taste of the rum but I discovered one more aspect of the fine rum in Cuba. Like most things in the country, Cuban rum production is a state run operation. Going by the name Havana Club, rum production in Cuba is taken very seriously. Havana Club employs Maestro Roneros—master rum makers. From the selection of sugar cane to the final bottling, the master rum makers are responsible for all aspects of the production of rum. They receive about 15 years of training and pass the information down to new maestros through a training program. They apply scientific practices and research to make their rum some of the best in the world. So was the rum better in Cuba? It sure seemed like it was. I believe that in addition to the great soil, perfect climate, trained master rum makers, Cuban rum embodies that Cuban spirit we learned about on our trip: ingenuity, creativity, and holding on to a cultural and historical past while coping and dealing with the present. *The anaerobic (without oxygen) conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast. **The process of purifying a liquid by boiling it and condensing its vapors. This article is one of a series based on my trip to Cuba. I traveled on a People to People tour to Cuba called: Cuba Today, People and Society with Road Scholar. http://www.roadscholar.org/n/program/summary.aspx?id=1%2D5SYY5E
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