by Raul Menchaca
VILLA CLARA, Cuba, March 2 (Xinhua) -- Cesar Augusto Marti, 43, is a rum master, whose job is to ensure the quality of the nation's rum and create new products.
Marti, a chemical engineer by training, works at the Agustin Rodriguez Mena Central Rum Factory in Santo Domingo, a small town of just over 50,000 inhabitants in central Cuba's Villa Clara Province.
Like premium cigars, Cuba's rum industry forms a core part of Cuba's national identity and is an essential engine of the country's economy.
"I am just the keeper of a historical heritage ... the rum culture that we preserve, maintain, enrich and defend as an authentic expression of our culture," Marti told Xinhua.
When he was a child, Marti recalls, he would accompany his grandfather to the nearby sugar factory, where he learned about the ins and outs of sugar and alcohol production.
Those visits marked the beginning of a life dedicated to rum production.
While studying at the Central University of Las Villas, the region's top center of higher learning, he studied at the rum factory, Cuba's second largest distillery.
"After graduating in 2000, I was lucky enough to get my first job at the factory. The world of rums and distilled liquors, which is an exciting world, influences me forever," said Marti.
Several years later, Cuba's premier rum master Jose Navarro Campa noted his talent. In 2009, Marti became one of Cuba's youngest rum masters.
"It is a great responsibility, because it's not just about preserving what has been continued and enriched for generations. Now it's my turn to continue and enrich it so that tomorrow Cuban rum will continue to be as robust as it is today," said Marti.
The distillery is where Cuban brand Cubay, recognized as capturing "the authentic flavor of central Cuba," was created.
"It is a brand that sounds similar to the name of our country," he noted, adding "the 'ay' ending comes from the indigenous Arawak language and means river."
Marti's first assignment as rum master was to come up with a new product for the Spanish chain of department stores El Corte Ingles. That's how the Cubay line came to include golden Cubay Carta Dorada, followed by Cubay Anejo Suave.
Cubay is Cuba's second best-selling rum nationally, after Havana Club, so working on expanding the brand was a source of "great pride and a great commitment," said Marti.
Each bottle of Cuban rum, he said, represents more than 150 years of experience in distilling the essential flavors and aromas of the Caribbean island.