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Cuba's Forbidden Fruit - RUM!

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

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Rum - Cuba's forbidden fruit

"Cuban rum is forbidden fruit, so everyone wants it and most Americans are only ever exposed to it when on vacation, where everything tastes better. So the desirability and fond memories mean that expectations are high."

~ Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler's Cove, a rum bar in San Francisco

Rum is not just a drink to the Cubans. The spirit is a major part of Cuba’s identity along with the Cuban cigars; they have contributed immensely to the country's economy for decades. As travel between the U.S. and this island destination becomes more accessible, many Americans are becoming fascinated with all things Cuba, with some certain agricultural products at the top of the list.

Americans have been interested in Cuban rum for centuries. When it was prohibited, rich Americans took private flights to wet Havana just to drink rum on the weekends. There's this interesting myth about Ernest Hemingway, who spent 20 years drinking daiquiris in Cuba's cocktail mecca.

For about 5 decades, the U.S. has imposed import restrictions on the communist nation. Cuban-made rum and cigars became illegal imports, which only made them more desirable to Americans. Everywhere else in the world, Cuban rum is readily available. Cuban rum and cigars are not exactly contraband in the sense that they can be brought into the country now, but Americans traveling abroad were only allowed to bring in $100 worth of it at a time (just enough for personal consumption) until recently...

Before, it was illegal for Americans to own Cuban cigars and rum. However, all that has changed due to the ever-improving relationship between Cuba and the United States. As many more travelers journey into this enigmatic country, there has been an increase in the number of items that Americans are allowed to bring home with them. However, you cannot bring home more than 100 cigars. If this is violated, penalties can reach up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol declared recently in its most recent warning on the issue.

Rum has been made Cuba since the 19th century. Bacardi reigned in Cuba until the communist revolution impounded Bacardi's holdings and sent the company overseas to Puerto Rico. Still, rum persists as the Cuban drink, and the joy of finding locally-made and unique rum is just too fun to pass up. Rum production in Cuba has several unique features. First, it is produced from Cuban molasses or sugarcane juice. Secondly, contrary to many parts of the Caribbean, all rum is column distilled. The rum is distilled to an alcoholic strength of either 75% or 95% and aged for an average of 3 years.

Cuba has more than 10 rum distilleries. The most popular and easily accessible rum distilleries include Havana Club, Santiago de Cuba, Legendario, Cubay, Mulata, Varadero, Santero, Pacto Navio, and Perla del Norte, with Havana Club being the largest.

There are so many things to buy in Cuba especially for the shopaholics; however, there is still a limit on how much product you can take out of Cuba. Though it's not clear how much enforcement is being done at the border, it is better to play safe. Premium quality cigars sold in government-owned stores cost more than $10 each, so taking these valued Cuban delicacies home is a lot harder than you might imagine.

However, if you plan your Cuba trip with me, you may get the exclusive privilege of buying Cuba's own homegrown rum, Guayabita del Pinar (AKA Little Guava - literally made from a dwarfed guava fruit!). It’s micro-distilled, and you will probably only find it while in the Pinar del Rio region. You get to take home foreign, traditional and unique souvenirs from your Cuba travels. Contact me for more info on how you can get your own taste of the popular Cuba’s renowned forbidden fruit.

Erin Smith ~ Affinity Group Travel Advisor

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