“Condom wine.” Sounds like something illicit dreamt up for a bachelor party, but in Cuba, the humble condom has become a bizarre signature of one booming independent wine business. In its intended use, it keeps fluids separated; however, for small, homespun wineries, the same product placed over the top of a glass jug can be used to control airflow – a small hole in the rubber lets fermentation gases out while also preventing anything else from getting in – making a truly DIY airlock.
The Associated Press recently looked into El Canal, the Havana-based winery of Orestes Estevev. The 65-year-old has been making wine in Cuba for decades, deciding to officially, legally open for business in 2000. He now sells about 50 bottles a day, churning out unique concoctions made not just from Cuban grapes, but also other ingredients like tropical fruits (such as guava) and vegetables (like watercress and beets). Retailing for just 10 Cuban pesos each, the equivalent of about 40 cents, Estevev has to keep costs down, and using condoms instead of more expensive equipment does just that.
“Putting a condom on a bottle is just like with a man,” Estevez told the AP. “It stands up, the wine is ready, and then the process is completed.” To put it less metaphorically, as fermentation of the juices takes place, carbon dioxide gas is released; as the condom begins to become, ahem, erect, Estevez knows fermentation is in full swing. When the condom deflates, he can tell that gas is no longer being produced and fermentation is finished.
Though seeing wine jugs with condoms sticking off the top might seem like, ahem again, a turn off, this unique method has actually become part of the winery’s charm. “The winery has become a neighborhood attraction, with residents of the El Cerro neighborhood sitting on the curb at all hours sipping Estevez's wine from green glasses,” the AP writes. “The most remarkable sight, however, are hundreds of bottles capped with condoms that slowly inflate as the fruity mix ferments and produces gases.” Actually, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad place for a bachelor party after all.