Published – Sailing World
©2016 – All Rights Reserved – Troy Gilbert
Sailors have an affectionate place in their hearts for rum, so when Lesson #1’s bowman, Randall Richmond, was offered a crew position to race to Havana, it didn’t take him long to make up his mind. What settled it for him was a black-and-white photo in a newspaper clipping of his great-grandfather Phillip Trochesett, sitting with his fellow crewmembers at the notorious Sloppy Joe’s bar in Havana.
In 1948, when Richmond’s great-grandfather was sailing on Garner Tullis’ legendary Havana racer, the 60-foot schooner Windjammer, the Cuban rum Bacardi was taking the world by storm. The Bacardi family had scraped and distilled their way since 1862 to become the premier rum makers around the globe, as well as one of the top economic powerhouses, not only in Cuba but in the entire Caribbean. With access to acres of sugarcane fields and a growing appetite for the liquor among the public, this small family business produced what was arguably the first highly distilled rum with a consistent level of quality.
Ernest Hemingway brought further cachet to the famed Cuban rum and was notorious for his consumption of Bacardi double daiquiris at the Floridita’s long bar on Calle Obispo in Old Havana. Castro’s revolution in 1959, however, sealed the fate of American sailors and Bacardi rum. Fierce Cuban nationalists and early supporters of Castro, the majority of the Bacardi family fled two years after the Castros came to power, when their business was nationalized. In Cuba today, any trace of the Bacardi brand and its legacy has vanished, with the distillery in Santiago now producing Ron Caney. (Bacardi is produced in Puerto Rico.)
As a primary cash export, there are multiple brands of Cuban rum, with the majority tracing their lineage to the 1800s. None of these are readily available in the United States due to the lingering trade embargo. There is a certain layered depth and gravitas to Cuban rum. Even an average three-year-old Havana Club has a deep, smooth finish that overpowers the alcohol. Many high-end Cuban rums, of which there are dozens, taste akin to the caramelized sugar on top of a perfect crème brûlée — flavors that should never be marred by the Cuba Libre, which took off in an infamous marketing campaign after American soldiers first mixed rum with Coca-Cola during the Spanish-American War.
From the perfect mojito at Sloppy Joe’s to the original daiquiri with only sugar, fresh-squeezed lime juice, ice and rum shaken well at the Floridita, Cuban cocktails have been rediscovered in the United States of late, perhaps as a harbinger of the rapprochement between the two nations.