Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sloppy Joe's Bar Havana Reopened

     The historic bar in Havana known as Sloppy Joe's Bar has reopened after a long and arduous restoration.   I was absolutely stunned with the accuracy of the
restoration when I visited there this month.     It was filled with historic pictures from the hay days including the many stars that would frequent the establishment in the twenties through the fifties.  I got to see the progress that was made since I was there last September, but what absolutely amazed me the spectacular job that was done bringing it back to life.

     A short ten months ago I was stumbling over rubble at a construction site in Havana looking at the project being built.   The famous long bar and the cabinets were being built, the whole building, inside and out was undergoing a complete face lift.   The attention to detail by the workers was amazing and the finished product, what can I say, it is great.  I feel like I just walked into a 1930's bar and I was going to be sitting by any one of many celebs that would be stopping by for cocktails.  

     The people behind the bar and the servers dressed in traditional black with orange ties fitting to the dress of the era and the entire experience.  Being able to walk behind the bar with the staff  was an experience that I really enjoyed, and will never forget.    It is so great to have been able to experience the fun and excitement that was "Sloppy Joe's Habana", the atmosphere and the décor is fabulous.

     Today, the people working there are what make this such a special place.  I guess that the same can be said for the days of the bar in the past.  It was really true then as it is now, the décor draws you in and the people keep you coming back.   I do have to say that I did spend quite a bit of time here on this visit.  

     Just down the street from Parque Central and the Bacardi Building, Sloppy Joe's  is a must see on any Havana visit.  Jump into the past and have a super time gazing into the days of fun and frivolity from the Prohibition Day in Havana.  ;o)


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Does Rum Mean to the World?

   That is a funny question, but one that I was pondering as I looked over some spirits industry news.   For some it is an old pirate and crusty sailor's libation, but to others it is a very sophisticated spirit to be lavished with a cigar and a restful evening on the patio.  Still others see it as a means to make a living working in the industry.  No matter how you see rum, it has become a major player in the world economy and in the eyes of the people that enjoy it.

    In Barbados for instance, rum has a major effect on the economy of the country.  The sugar cane and the rum industry make up a very large portion of the little island's economy, and how well these industries do has a big effect on the welfare of Barbados.   But over and above that fact the people and the producers of rum enjoy the high quality of their rums as well.

     National pride is involved as well, the pride of the people that produce rums in Panama, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Venezuela, and the many many other countries involved are extremely proud of the rums they put their names on.   From the cane farmers and the field workers to the Maestro Roneros and the distillery workers, they all play an important part in the making of their countries rums.

     I find that there is so much pride in the people that make your rums every where that I travel.   Finding new ways to make their rums unique, like aging the rum below the ocean, or blending with the use of varied types of barrels, the product is what is important and the pride they get from producing a high quality product is always in their eyes.  It is their willingness to share what they have been doing with all of us that will listen that makes my job so much fun..    I feel that it is this price in their product that separates the rum category from all of the rest of the spirits.  No where is their such freedom to make a product as unique and different as your imagination will allow you to create.   Many of the old masters in the business are coming up with rums today that have you singing their praises every time a new rum is introduced.  

     It is these masters creating the honest and traditional based rums that will take rum to it's next level.  There is enough of the vanilla flavored
and caramel colored rums out there already, we need to allow the real masters to apply their skills and keep creating some of the honest rums that are getting their flavors from the barrel instead of the chemistry lab.  Making use of quality barrels, solera systems, clean distilling practices and good blending procedures will take the category to a place of higher respect in the spirits world.

    Rum consumers are the ones that will move rum to the next level by speaking with your consumer dollars and buying the quality rums rather than the cheap ones that just perpetuate the pirate swill image rum has had in the past.   ;o)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ron Varadero and Key West Sunshine

    Ron Varadero Anejo Seven Anos Rum is another of the fine rums produced at the Santiago de Cuba distillery.  This rum is one of the "light traditional rums" that came into being as a result of the hard work by Don Facundo Bacardi at the Santiago de Cuba factory many many years ago.    Traditional rum made from molasses, the end product of the boiling of the sugar cane to make the sugar crystals, light because it is clean and naturally distilled.   Don Facundo was the first to use aging bacteria and cultivated them and his own special yeast at his distillery.  These discoveries brought refinement by aging and a consistency into the world of rum .   The Santiago de Cuba Distillery's maestro ronero's continue today to make these fine rums in the traditional way. 

     Ron Varadero Anejo 7 Anos has a very light and delicate flavor that is so typical of the traditional rums of Cuba.   The rum has a medium caramel color with a subtly fruity and woody flavor that emits inviting aromas to draw you in.  The extraordinary smoothness and the lingering finish bring you back for a second and third sip.   The rum is made by traditional methods and is slow aged in oak barrels yielding a truly unique superior rum.   I found this rum to be a really a one of a kind fine rum that I wish that I could enjoy more often, but the American embargo of Cuba prevents the Americans to enjoy so many of the fine things that are Cuba.  

     Should you come across this rum in a "Duty Free" shop while abroad, pick one up, you won't be disappointed.   ;o)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Grand Cayman Lost

    The beautiful Cayman Islands just south of Cuba provide a beautiful backdrop for a holiday from the hustle and bustle of the city.   It is really along way to anywhere from here.   From the Tiki Bar at the Reef Resort, the world slips away in a fine glass of local Cayman Spirits Rum and the sound of the ocean rolling on to the shore.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Central Parque Havana

    Staying in the Telegrafo Hotel with its view of Central Parque in Havana brings visions of the "hay days" of Havana during the 30's through the 50's.   Between the cars and the architecture of the buildings it is like being in a "time warp".  From sun rise to sunset it is a breath taking sight.   Looking out toward the Bacardi Building and the Plaza Hotel to catch the first rays of sunlight in the morning, the city seems to come alive right before your eyes.

     Watching the people beginning to start moving around, the buses and taxi's begin to bustle up and down the street, you come to life watching the 1950's American cars moving down below on the street.  I found myself staring out the window from the fourth floor just wondering what would draw past catching my eye this time.   It was almost like I was watching the television instead of looking out the window.   The light shining on the buildings change the entire mood of the parque constantly.   I was thirteen years old when Cuba became one of the "forbidden fruits", it has taken until I was sixty-six to finally be able to see why people were so enamored with this magic city.

     Early afternoon brings the light from the west giving the parque an entirely different look.  It glistens and begins to get the look of being ready for the party of the night to begin.  This time of day reminds me of postcards from the 30's and 40's of the hotels and fun places that all seemed to say "having a wonderful time wish you were here".  

    As I look to the left down the "Prado" I see the entrance to Havana Harbour and the old fort and lighthouse that protected it.  The blend of the 1800's with the middle 1900's makes for a very picturesque sight.   What I find about the window is that it is almost like having a very special window on the world that takes you back to the era of your childhood, and get to see many things that you otherwise only get to remember and do not get to see any more.  

    This well preserved piece of history is around because of the way things were done in this country in the past.  Buildings were built to last forever, and even though there has been very little money for maintenance in the past couple of decades, the city is surviving very well.   With the advent of more and more tourist dollars arriving, there seems to be more and more of the buildings being restored and brought back to their previous glory and beauty.

    This is a city that needs to be seen to believe.  After my second visit, I can hardly wait for the next opportunity to travel back and find new sights that I have never seen in this infatuating place .   Every alley or covered sidewalk opens up into a plaza or parque to spin you around again and again.

   Eventually it will be open for the easy 90 mile trip from Key West and everyone will be able to cross the Florida Straits and spend some very special time in the magic that has always made Cuba a draw for the American people.   ;o)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Santiago De Cuba Rum

USS New York in Santiago de Cuba Harbour
Bacardi Factory (now Santiago de Cuba)
     Santiago de Cuba is located in the southeast part of Cuba with a historic grand harbor and one of the finest distilleries in all of Cuba.   Santiago de Cuba harbor is the sight of one of the very decisive battles of the Spanish-American War.   This is the home of the original Bacardi distillery first opened in 1868 by Don Facundo Bacardi Masso.    Today the distillery is being run by the Rum Corporation of Cuba, producing several brands of rums that are available all over Cuba and many other international destinations.  Brands like Santiago de Cuba, Ron Varadero, and Ron Caney are among the 9 million liters per year produced in the old Bacardi factory.

     I want to say something about a really nice rum from this factory that I got to taste while in Havana last week.   Santiago de Cuba 11 Anejo Superior is one of those rums that you stumble upon every now and then that really tickle your palate and put a smile on your face.  The brilliant mahogany hue that catches your eye immediately and the nice sweetness of the Cuban sugarcane is just the beginning.  The fruity and spicy palate and the long smooth finish make this an instant favorite.   The rum is aged by their secret method called  "one exclusive aging mode" under the watchful eye of the Maestro de Ronero for Santeago de Cuba.

     Although it is unavailable in the United States it is available in many "Duty Free" shops in airports around the islands and the Americas.   It is always worth the time while you are waiting for your plane to browse these wonderful shops.  I have found many of the unusual rums that I have in these places.  The big plus is they draw little attention from customs as you arrive back in the States.

    If you get the opportunity to try this one of any of the other Santiago de Cuba rums you will be very pleasantly surprised.  They are said to be made to the standards of the original Matusalem Brand  according to those in Cuba that are in the business.   Whether or not it is really doesn't matter, it is a great tasting rum  ;o)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pilar, Hemingway and Cojimar

La Terraza de Cojimar
    After a short 20 minute taxi ride from the Telegrafo Hotel we arrived in front of the La Terraza de Cojimar.   Cojimar is a sleepy little fishing village just to the west of Havana, that became famous in Ernest Hemingway's novel "The Old Man and the Sea".    The real life story is that the village was the port for Hemingway's boat Pilar, and his fishing port while he was living in Cuba.    The port today is almost deserted with only a few local fishermen casting nets to bring in some fish.  The docks where  Pilar would lay at anchor are still there, but no boats are moored there like they had been in the past.

     The Village is about 5 or 6 blocks long with a small fort structure at the entrance to the harbor.  The old stone structure still stands vigilant to protect the village and the harbor.   It feels like you should be able to walk out on the dock and see Pilar anchored just a few yards away from the dock and Ernest Hemingway and Gregorio Fuestes would be walking up the dock to head out for another fishing adventure.   The appearance of the place hasn't changed from the images that are on the walls in the La Terraza de Cojimar.

      Inside the La Terraza de Cojimar, they still have Ernest and Gregorio's table set there in the corner waiting for them to come back from the sea and have dinner and cocktails.   It is a bit eerie, because you can almost fee their presence in the room.   Old photos are framed and cover the walls of the two men on Pilar and around the local area.   There is a great picture of the "Old Man and the Sea"  Captain Gregorio Fuentes walking on the dock coming from Pilar, that just helps tell the story as you explore the village and the docks that are still there next to the fort.

    The two men would gather with the other Cojimar fishermen and tell lies as fishermen often do.  These tales and stories were the basis for Hemingway's book "The Old Man and the Sea, which won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.    Cojimar was the perfect setting for the book, you could just feel it like in the book. 

They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen.”
 If you get the opportunity to go to Havana hire a cab and tell them to take you to Cojimar, then just let the magic begin.  The painting inside the La Terraza de Cojimar puts you back in the 30's and all the magic of the book comes alive.   ;o)




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lobster Mobsters invade Key West

     It is here again, the annual "Lobster Mini Season", two days to stay off the waters around the Florida Keys.   This is a real invasion of the largest group of undisciplined boaters and divers in the world.   I've questioned the sanity of this event each and every year since I've lived down here, but it is something that the Florida Wildlife Commission must like.   It brings boats and divers too close together and without a doubt the hospitals will be busy for the next couple of days.

    There are a lot of people that come to the Florida waters each year for the two days of insanity, I guess it is like so many other things that go on here in the keys, it is something that a lot of people will show up for.   The FWC will have their hands full for the next few days as well, keeping the event safe and making sure that the limits are being adhered to as well.  Water safety is so important and keeping the divers and the spinning props of the boats separate is one of the biggest concerns for all involved.

     This is a quest for the "bug" known as a spiny lobster, a delicacy that is loved by many and enjoyed in great numbers during the next couple of days.

    For me I'll be working at the Rum Bar during the day and sitting on my back deck during the evening enjoying a nice glass of rum and watching the "lobster mobsters" return about sunset.   Sounds like a safe way to survive the next two days of insanity here on the water,   ;o)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Back in Key West, Great Trip, Glad to be Home

Bahama Bob and Marta  Inglaterra Roof
     After eight days on the road it is great to sleep aboard Sanity Too again and my own bed.  It was a fun filled trip to Grand Cayman ant then off to Havana, in case you haven't guessed from the picture of the El Capitolia on Sunday.     It was a lovely trip that my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed.  Starting out in Grand Cayman and staying at the Reef Resort was great and then off the Havana on Wednesday for five days, then back to Grand Cayman for another two days before returning to Key West  yesterday.   This trip was great because there were so many things that I got to see that I have never seen before and a chance to return to some other places that I enjoyed so much last September.

La Terraza de Cojimar
     Part of the fun of this trip was that I had my wife with me to share the experience. It is such a great thing to see the awe in her eyes as we moved around the amazing areas of Havana and the surrounding towns.    It was an opportunity to visit Cojimar, the fishing town where Pilar, Hemingway's fishing yacht spent a lot of it's life, and the La Terraza de Cojimar, the restaurant that Hemingway and his Captain Fuentes would eat and drink after fishing.

Tropicana Outdoor Theater
     An evening at the Tropicana was very special as well  Seeing this historic cabaret night club right out of the Thirties blew me away.   Dinner and a 1939 style extravaganza cabaret show in the spectacular outdoor theater made for a pretty terrific evening.   Nights at La Floridita, and the recently reopened Sloppy Joe's in downtown Havana added to the color of the five day stop over.  

     No trip to Havana would be complete without the chance to enjoy some very special rums of Cuba, and this trip was no exception.   Not only Havana Club, but Santiago de Cuba, and Ron Varadero.   I did run across a bottle of the no longer produced Havana Club Barrel Proof, that the gang of us immediately polished off at the La Terraza de Cojimar.  I kept the bottle, it will be on display at the Rum Bar today.

   I will be covering in more detail the many stories of what happened on this extraordinary trip during the next month or so.  Keep your eyes out for some really fun things and places that we visited during our five days in Havana and four days in Grand Cayman.   ;o)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grand Cayman Tonight and Back to Key West Tomorrow

     It has been a long and fun trip, visiting a lot of very special and interesting places.   I will be back in Key West Tuesday and resuming my normal write and post instead of the scheduled posts of the past week or so.

     Yesterday as a travel day and like wise today, I have had a wonderful time traveling and visiting some new and exciting places and seeing many very exciting places, shows and museums.  

     I am planning a series of stories that will cover this trip over the next few months and the review of several new places , rums and events that I was lucky enough to attend.

     By the way it was Ernest Hemingway's Birthday yesterday, had he lived he would have been 115 year old on Sunday.   This is a man that lived the life any one of us would love to lead.  He did what he felt like doing, wrote like no one else, and wasn't afraid to try something new, and when he could no longer live this life he loved any more, he ended it.   He lived and ended his life in a way that only he could have done.   ;o)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

If You're Wondering Where I Am, Just Guess

     For the past four days I have been out of Internet range, but having an enlightening time chasing all of the unusual spirits that make this island so special.    During the next few weeks you will be able to enjoy more of the fun travels and things I got to enjoy there right here on the blog.  Any Guesses where I am?  ;o)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wandering Georgwetsown and the West Side of Grand Cayman

    Quite, just the opposite from life on the east side of Grand Cayman, the west coast is a bustling metropolis for industrial and tourist.  Seven Mile Beach is the Tourist Zone of Grand Cayman.   We leave out of the Reef Resort and follow the southern coast to Georgetown and the Seven Mile Beach area.    The view from the highway as we travel down the coast toward Georgetown is absolutely incredible.   We play peek a boo with the ocean and the vegetation as we proceed toward Georgetown.

Once in Georgetown we make for the coast road along Seven Mile Beach and up to a place on the northern end of Seven Mile Beach known as Hell.  Once you see this amazing area, you'll know why they call it Hell.  The carbonate rock is being eaten by organisms that consumes carbonate rock for its existence.  This leaves the holes and craggy rock formations that look as though "Hells Half Acre".

     After leaving Hell it was off to the northern part of the Seven Mile Beach area and the Turtle Farm and the Dolphin Experience.   We went into the Dolphin Experience for lunch and got a huge bonus show as we sat down for lunch.   The swim with the dolphins experience was getting under way.   It was a great show watching the dolphins go through their paces and giving rides to the visitors in the water.    Pairs of the dolphins would lift the visitors up and whisk them across the water with their noses under their feet.

     There were restaurants, shops, hotels and bars lining the beach.   This is a great area for the cruise ship passengers and the other tourists that are teeming in the area.   It is really a great area for tourists with all of the other natural and man-made attractions in the area.   Grand Cayman is a great and diverse island offering the secluded quiet areas as well a
s the bustling Seven Mile Beach areas that bring the tourists flocking,   This is a place that you need to consider for a vacation spot if you haven't already been here.  ;o)

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Reef Resort: What a Very Special Place

     The days here on Grand Cayman were very special and fun, a big part of this was the enjoyable time spent at The Reef Resort at the east end of Grand Cayman.     This full service resort with it's beach facing suites make the mornings just so special while staying there.   My early rising habits serve me well in being able to see spectacular sunrises and beachfront scenery everywhere I go.     The views from the balcony of these suites are some of the best any where.

     The resort is located on the opposite end of the island from the hustle and bustle of Georgetown and the Seven Mile Beach, but is worth the 1/2 hour drive to get there.  Even having to go back and fourth to visit the Seven Fathoms Distillery, the drive is very relaxing and scenic.   After arriving on Grand Cayman we traveled in our rental car up Seven Mile Beach and visited Hell before heading out to the Resort for a great afternoon of sun, sand, fun and spirits.   The 1600 foot white sand beach is private and quiet, making for a perfect place to tan and relax.

     The resort was completely rebuilt after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.   The hurricane closed the resort for
four months and it was back in business.  Today it is boasting 152 rooms that are just wonderful for the guest that really like to be in a very private and scenic environment.   Just to short of a stay, but I'm sure I will return again.    ;o)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hemingwway Days in Key West


    This week we are celebrating Ernest Hemingway's 114th birthday, Sunday July 21st, with the crowning of the new
Hemingway look-a-like at Sloppy Joe's.   During the week there will be several events
including Hemingway Granddaughter Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition.   There is a museum exhibition of Hemingway memorabilia, a there day Marlin Fishing Tournament, and the Key West rendition of the San Fermin Festival Running of the Bulls.    

    The Hemingway years in Key West were some very productive years with his Wife Pauline and three sons Jack, George and Patrick.  He wrote  "Farewell to Arms" and several other books while in Key West and started "For Whom the Bell Tolls" which was published in 1940.   He spent from the winters from 1928 through 1939 in Key West before moving to Finca la Vigia just outside of Havana.

     This week promises as usual to be a rollicking crazy week that Hemingway brought to the island when he and his "Mafia" were partying and fishing her back in the 30's.   It is a week to participate and not a spectator, come down and join in all of the fun.   You can stop by the Rum Bar and have a "Papa Pilar" rum, the one that is made in the style of his life.

   Today is the start of four days without Internet access available, so there will be some blogs that were written in advance to keep the daily stories  happening. ;o)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Touring Cayman Spirits Distillery

     Cayman Spirits Company Distillery is a very interesting operation that has just completed its move into the new facility in the industrial area of Georgetown.   This is a very unusual distillery not only for their methods of creating the rum, but their for aging of the rum.  

     Starting with the fermentation, they start with molasses that is purchased from America, then add locally grown sugar cane pressings to the mix for added flavor.  They preter the blend of sugar cane syrup and molasses rather than just either one of these.   After tasting the distillate fresh off of the still I have to agree.   This one of the most flavorful distillates that I have ever tasted.

    These are very modern combination stills.  The wine starts out in a pot still and then to a column still and finally to another pot still / column unit to finish the rum.    The rum is very clean coming from these stills and very flavorful.   The operation is able to produce about 200,000 liters of rum per year.   Part of the production is used for flavored rums like Coconut, Banana, and some others that are currently being perfected.   The rest of the rum is aged in barrels, some in warehouses while the very special rums are aged in seven fathoms of water off the coast of Grand Cayman. 

     This is the very unusual aging method that makes their "Seven Fathoms" brand of rum so unique.    This is their top of the line rum at this time and has some nice characteristics for such a young rum.    Being able to age the rum under water has many benefits, first the constant motion of the ocean keeps the rum agitating with in the barrel.  This will speed the aging process as well as giving the rum a very consistent flavor.

    The distillery also produces a line of rums that are known as "Governor's  Reserve" line of White, Dark, Gold, Spiced, Coconut, and Banana rums.  These are all very young rums that do have very nice characteristics for their young age.

     This is the only distillery in the Cayman Islands and a very unique one.   They are showing very creative ideas that are already beginning to show some very  positive results in their products.   I look forward to seeing where they go with these programs.  The Seven Fathoms rum is being imported into the United States, but the rest of their products are strictly being sold in the Cayman Islands.   ;o)