José Navarro (1942-2020)

Cuban rum master José Navarro died yesterday.

His significance cannot be overstated.

Navarro basically saved the Cuban rum industry. A chemist by trade, he ‘left’ the academic world and was asked to have a look at the rum industry in the early 70s. It had been neglected following the revolution and the distilleries were in pretty bad shape. But the Cuban government needed access to foreign currency and rum was thought (!) to have potential. Navarro set about modernizing the tools and putting together guidelines for the production of rum.

He later created Havana Club 7 yo and became the mentor of a whole generation of master distillers. He was named ‘Primer Maestro del Ron Cuban’, and was the dean of this select and quite unique group (master distillers in Cuba don’t work for brands, they’re collectively responsible for the whole national industry).

A few years ago, I was commissioned to translate a short memoir he had written about his life, but I don’t think my client ever published it. I will ask if I can use the text. One never knows.

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The Cuban press agency is full of poets. “Transitó desde el apego a lo racional hasta el dominio de los sentidos” — “la liturgia del ron”.

Did Sr. Navarro reinstate traditional Cuban rum making, or were his techniques new ones?

In the text, he mentions long discussions with old master distillers (the ones that hadn’t left Cuba) to understand how they made rum in the old days. It was about giving a scientific and technical backbone to traditional practices.

As usual, I hope you will publish so the world’s knowledge will grow.

Sadly, the decision is not mine to take. I will get back in touch with them to see if something can be done. It would have to be heavily edited and some of the most interesting stuff is to be read between the lines (it’s Cuba, after all).