A visit to the Havana Club Museum of Rum isn't merely a journey back to the origins of Cuba's most famous beverage. From freshly cut stalks of sugar cane to a reconstitution of a distillery and ageing cellars, the museum offers a real-time experience of the rum-making process, as well as a taste of true Cuban culture. Situated in the historic district of Habana Vieja ("old Havana"), the museum is housed in a renovated 18th-century "solar" (colonial townhouse). Downstairs is a shady patio, with its broad stone columns and ferns, yuccas and potted palms. A bell signals the start of the museum tour, and you follow the guide up a flight of stone steps. The first landing presents a view of the cooper shop, demonstrating the craftsmanship required to build and prepare the oak casks inside which the fine rums will age. An upstairs gallery features an authentic mule-driven cane mill used in the earliest "ingenios" (sugar refineries). A historically accurate model of a steam locomotive reminds us that Cuba was the first country in Latin America to use a railway for the transport of sugar cane. The next door leads to a much larger model, the achievement of a master Cuban craftsman. This masterpiece captures the essence of the great sugar refineries and rum distilleries, whose immense chimneys rise as landmarks over the Cuban countryside.
The wealth of detail stuns the eye: wagons transporting the cane from the fields, smoke rising from chimneys, cane cutters chatting on the porch.... Another staircase leads to the fermentation and distilling rooms, where you'll see wooden fermentation casks, gleaming copper distillation columns, and pipes that transport the "aguardient" into various tanks. In the languid warmth of the ageing cellars, oak barrels take their place in shaded alcoves like statues in a cathedral. This is where the various rums mellow patiently, awaiting the intervention of the Maestro Ronero. The visit continues down a spiral staircase into the museum's tasting room, with its immense wooden bar reminiscent of the drinking establishments that made Havana famous in the 1930s. In the Havana Club Boutique you can choose from the finest Havana Club rums. The boutique also offers a selection of Havana Club bars articles, Cuban cigars and souvenirs.
When you've finished visiting the museum, you'll want to head to the Havana Club Bar, which adjoins the museum. The bartenders here perpetuate the grand tradition of the Cuban "cantineros", with their special know-how in the art of mixing cocktails and taking care of their customers. You can stick with the classics and order a Mojito or a Daiquiri, or you can go native and ask for a "Cata Vertical", a sampling of various Havana Club rums from the youngest to the oldest. The Havana Club bar features a tasty menu of international and Creole dishes in case you're in need of food.
Then again, a lot of people come here just for the music, which if you're lucky will mean the lady dressed in white with a voice that needs no electronic amplification. Solista Antia Marquetti and her band regularly bring the house down with their repertoire of traditional Cuban son, trova and bolero.
El Museo del Ron Havana Club Avenida del Puerto 262, esq. Sol, Habana Vieja Ciudad de La Habana. Tel: 53 (7) 861 8051 / 862 4108. Contacto@museo.havanaclub.cu
Open daily from 9:30.am to 5:30 pm // Havana Club Bar open daily from 9:30 am to 12:00 am. Entry fee: 7 Cuc (around 6 euros) / free for locals