Rum was the first spirit I ever tried, under the watchful eyes of my parents, at the age of eleven.
That may seem young, but here’s the story: we were visiting our family in Cuba, gathering to roast a pig and host a feast in celebration of our long-awaited reunion. Our contribution to the party was a few cases of rum. (It’s a big family!) My parents always knew they wanted to introduce me to alcohol before the peer pressure of adolescence could. They wanted me to learn about it, understand and respect it. At this lively family reunion, I was naturally curious about the spirit my family was enjoying so much, mostly neat or straight from the bottle! I asked to try it so my dad handed me his glass. I took a small sip, and there started my love for rum.
At home, if there was rum in the house, I knew we were having family and friends over. I associated it with community, my heritage, the country my parents left behind. As I grew older, I became the family bartender. I served up Mojitos and neat pours for family and friends as they played dominoes, danced salsa, or roasted a pig in the caja china. This instilled in me a deep love for hospitality: the romance of hosting friends, showing them a great time, and sharing a part of myself with them in the process. In college I read a book connecting culture and food—it sealed my fate.
My career in hospitality started right out of college and has included every possible job. I would like to say rum was there with me through it all but I had some love affairs along the way. Rye, Scotch, mezcal, amari, and wine all had their share of my time. But I would always go home to rum. Literally—there was always a bottle of Havana Club 7 at home waiting to be used for my evening Old Fashioned. Eventually, my career became more bar-focused and I started diving more deeply into the world of rum. I met my partner, another lover of rum, and together we started collecting and learning about rum. It was then that I rediscovered what rum meant to me. The history of rum told me the story of my ancestors, for better or worse, and of how someone like me came to be.
Rum is a catalyst. It sparks joy and good times as well as meaningful conversations about confronting our pasts and thinking of our futures. Rum can be used to educate, engage, and invite introspection. It definitely knows how to unwind and start a party! But most importantly, rum will always connect you to your community, and for me that’s always cause for celebration.