Cuban Rum

Cuban Rum

Onaisys Fonticoba Gener

The first time I met Maestro Julio Enrique Ayán Rial, I had recently graduate as journalist. He was waiting for us at the gates of the former storehouses “Bacardí”, in Santiago de Cuba, to speak with us about something we thought we knew, but it was actually a complete discovery.

Perhaps because of the Cuban custom of taking everything for granted, that group of journalists —who were between 23 and 35 years old— walked in front of the white oak barrels as if they had seen them before, as if they knew into those barrels there were bases more ancient than the oldest rum of Cuba, as if the immensity of the warehouses did not overwhelm them or it didn’t dazzle their eyes.

But Julio had foreseen it. And as a magician who does not reveal his tricks, he left us only those images and an explanation —essential— about the meaning of rum for Cuban culture. Ten years later —almost the same time he has being a Maestro—, we meet him again at the V International Scientific and Technical Colloquium of Light Rum. Then, with less attendance than in the Bacardí storehouses, he tells us that it is thanks to the knowledge transmission from a Maestro to another that our drink is still among the best ones in the world.

"All the Masters have stayed on the Island," he said. “It is not about politics or economy, but a cultural issue. For us, culture is priceless, not negotiable”.

"Many people say they are called Maestros Roneros abroad, because of the intangible value they represent for their called 'Cuban rum'. But Cuban rum can only be elaborated here, because of the characteristics of honeys, the climate, the way of mixing ... We are well-known for the creation —more than 154 years ago— of light rum, for the way we preserve it, for the continuous aging it has, for using the same barrels during 80 or 90 years, which soften it and enable a huge variety of aromas and flavors.

About the characteristics that identify the drink in each region, he explains that "light rum was born in Santiago de Cuba and it moved from there to the rest of the island and the world. Eastern rums are very aromatic, with a sweet tendency. Those from the Center have other characteristics; their aromas are a little dry. And the products elaborated in the West are really dry. In addition, if we talk about zones, we have to say that the way to create rums is different in each region. There are different traditions and that is what creators have wanted to transmit to the drink”.

With the huge power of synthesis which characterizes him, he tells us that his title of Agricultural Engineer —Master in Plant Production— makes him the "exception" of the Cuban Rum Maestros, who are usually chemical engineers. "But the rum came from its origins: the sugar cane. So, there is a close bond", he replies in a hurry, like if any annotation must be made.

"Since I was a boy I liked everything about distillation, fermentation, mixing, and I had the possibility to share experiences with a great man: José Navarro Campa, the First Cuban Rum Maestro. Today, I consider rum as a hobby, not as a job. It is something that I enjoy and I get more experience every day".

Although he keeps in his memory invaluable secrets of the Cuban rum, he explains that his routine is the same than the one of an ordinary worker; and when he creates a new product, his first thought is "to develop our culture and make it enjoyable. Then we see the criterion of the customer, what he wants".

His "favorite brand" —he says while he smiles— is Cuban rum: "the liquid taste of Cubans", as Maestro Jose Navarro states. He also destroys the myth about that is a work in which people drink frequently: "We do the tasting of new products and try some barrels, but we do not drink frequently. We have to take care of our palate and health. All the excesses are bad".

And finally he advises: "We agree with the idea of sharing some rum with good friends or with family, never with the desire of 'having a whole bottle', but to share a drink. You should not drink in plastic cups, but in a crystal glass. As a part of our culture, we have to take care of where it is served, and never play down the value it represents".

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  • The Cuban government has begun to pay ahead of schedule the debt which was renegotiated with more than a dozen international creditors, in a first step to settle outstanding accounts that historically has been dragging, reported Reuters. Havana sealed in December 2015 an agreement with the Paris Club countries and managed to get 14 governments to forgive him 8,500 of 11,100 million still pending. The repayment of the remaining amount was structured over 18 years and the first payment of about $ 40 million, was made before October 31. "The Cuban government has paid the first installment and has done soon", said the French Ambassador to Cuba, Jean-Marie Bruno. Under the agreement with the Paris Club the 14 countries had a year to sign restructuring pacts that could include the establishment of local accounts, where a percentage of the money owed would be earmarked for development projects.

  • At the fairgrounds Expocuba more than 75 countries and 4 500 exhibitors have gathered since this Monday to seek business opportunities in the Caribbean largest shopping bag. Until November 4 Cuban entrepreneurs can showcase their results in the production of goods and services and present their interests in the search of foreign investment. Aiming for this, the Ministry of Tourism has arranged a larger exhibition area at the fair, for which presents a portfolio of 127 investment projects, including 25 for the construction of hotels, 97 in the form of hotel management with or without external financing and five dedicated to marine management. United States, Spain, France, Italy and Japan increased their participation, and Venezuela, China and Russia are the partners of the island most represented at the meeting.

  • The Roswell Park Cancer Institute, based in the city of Buffalo, will hold in the United States a clinical trial of a Cuban vaccine against lung cancer. The goal is to test the CimaVax-EGF, a treatment developed by the Molecular Immunology Center in Havana. The institute, one of the most important of its kind in the world, becomes the first American medical institution to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test a Cuban medical therapy in that country. The clinical trial is expected to begin in November and to involve roughly 60 - 90 US patients. Although CimaVax-EGF does not provide a cure of the disease, it contributes to slow the growth of tumors and is less toxic than chemotherapy. In this regard, it has already shown promising results in Cuba, and other countries like Peru, Colombia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • One of the most important groups in the contemporary world scene will tour Cuba. Odin Teatret will carry out from October 30 to November 25 a tour through several provinces. Based in the Danish town of Holstebro, Odin Teatret is led since 1964 by the Italian master Eugenio Barba. During his stay in Cuba they will present eight shows, which include one-person and group shows as well as a program of lectures, workshops, work demonstrations, audiovisual presentations, master classes and other exchanges. The tour will cover the cities of Las Tunas, Sancti Spiritus, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Pinar del Rio, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

  • 25th edition of International Ballet Festival of Havana Alicia Alonso has started. The event, one of the most prestigious in the world of dance- will take place until November 6. Among the guests are the company Buenos Aires Ballet, under the direction of Federico Fernández; Dance Americanana -group composed of figures of the New York City Ballet and the Miami City Ballet-; Ballet West, also American, and the Canadian company Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Also integrate the list Vlovajob Pru, led by François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea; Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1929 by the celebrated dancer and choreographer Martha Graham; and Irene Rodriguez’s (Cuba). Also attending the Festival are choreographers Daniel Proietto and Demis Volpi, both Argentinian; Colombian-Belgian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cuban Alberto Mendez and Ely Regina Hernandez, who created especially for the event, the pas de deux Winter.

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