Saturday, April 7, 2018

Who Makes the Real Cuban Rum?

     I guess that this battle is going to be one of those never ending battles that will rival the 100 year war before it is over.   It is an interesting “rum war” with so many different tactics that continue to keep both sides in the press almost weekly.

     It's a fight over ownership, heritage, revolution and rum.  It's a dispute that has lasted for decades over who is a "real" Cuban, and pits US rum powerhouse Bacardi against French spirits giant Pernod Ricard and its association with the Castro regime to produce Havana Club, the best known Cuban brand.   It involves court battles over trademarks, legislation in the US Congress, and deep feelings of nostalgia and loss.

     Bacardi has launched an all-out marketing offensive to stake its claim to the US market for its version of Havana Club, made with the original recipe purchased in 1994 from the brand's founders, the Arechebala family.

     But Pernod Ricard insists its Havana Club is the authentic version since it is distilled in Cuba with 100 percent Cuban ingredients.  "Pernod Ricard joined forces with the government in order to get profits from that stolen property," Bacardi brand executive Roberto Ramirez told AFP.   The Castro government's Cuba Ron SA swooped in and registered the name with US authorities, but because of the US trade embargo against the island nation could not sell Havana Club to the key American market. 

Bacardi began selling its Havana Club in 1995, produced in Puerto Rico and sold in the US market with the slogan: "Forced from home. Aged in Exile. Forever Cuban."   The Arechebala and Bacardi families were forced from home in the aftermath of Castro's revolution and had all their assets seized, including their rum-making factories.   While Bacardi had already established distilleries offshore, including in Puerto Rico, the Arechebalas, who had been making Havana Club since 1934, and distilling rum for decades before that, did not have the resources to start over, so their US trademark lapsed in 1974.

Since 1993, the Cuban company has been co-owned with Pernod Ricard, the world's number two spirits maker, which sued Bacardi for using the trademark.  The firm dismisses the Puerto Rican version as an upstart and says Bacardi is misleading consumers with "false claims" they are the original Havana Club.

“Don't tell us we're not Cuban”.   Bacardi has hit back hard, defending its Cuban roots and its authentic recipe. It also has the support of legislators from Florida who proposed a new law to ban the US from recognizing trademarks stolen by the Castro government.   In January, the rum maker released a campaign featuring a Cuban-American walking through Miami's little Havana -- or real Havana? -- reciting a poem about home.  "Forced to leave home, but home never leaves us. Wherever exile takes us... We walk carrying the musica of our island and the amber rum born from it," the poem says.

There is a lot more to this story, you can read it at