This week we're breaking all the rules. This is straight-up contraband. Forbidden hooch that enters the United States in false-bottom suitcases and mislabeled boxes in the bottom of speed boats. A smoky beast that can't be caged even by all the might of Uncle Sam. But that's not the worst of it. It's not even whiskey. It's RUM!
The Men Behind the Rum
Winter, 1956 — The Sierra Maestra Mountains, Cuba — Brothers Raul and Fidel Castro rejoin forces with Ernesto 'Che' Guevara and the other surviving rebels after the slaughter of three quarters of their men at the hands of Batista's army. The Sierra Maestras overlook Santiago de Cuba, the headquarters of one of Cuba's most successful enterprises: Bacardi Distillery.
Che, Raul, and Fidel
In 1960, after the revolution, Castro returns across the Sierra Maestras to nationalize Bacardi. However, Don Facundo Bacardi's grandson flees to the Bahamas with the key ingredient: Bacardi's prized yeast. Without the yeast, the rum formula cannot be followed.
Castro turns his sites on another rum producer: Havana Club, owned since 1878 by the Arechabala family. Castro successfully nationalizes the Havana Club Distillery in the coastal town of Cardenas. Havana Club becomes the primary brand of Cuba and, of course, subject to the embargo by the United States. In 1993, the Cuban government inks a deal with Pernod Ricard to globally distribute Havana Club. Today, Havana Club is the go-to brand across Europe and much of the world. But sadly it's still banned in the U.S. along with Cohiba and Montecristo.
Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. Sugar cane was difficult to produce in Europe, but responded wonderfully to the warm tropical climate of the islands. During Cuba's dry season in the month of December, the "Macheteros" harvest the stalks of cane. (Is it too late for us to change careers and become Macheteros? Coolest sounding job ever...). The cane is then ground down into a dark molasses syrup. Yeast is added and the molasses is fermented, producing alcohol which is then distilled. The resulting liquor is aged in oak barrels. It's a very similar process to whisky making, basically substituting sugar for barley. (For more information about rum making and history than you ever wanted to know, check out therumelier.com).