Exploring and Living in Cuba

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Tuesday, 10 January 2017 14:34

Rum wars: Havana Club vs. Havana Club

Rum lovers and history buffs should visit Havana’s Museo de Ron while in Havana, Cuba. There are guided tours where one can learn all about the history of rum and the process of how it is made from start to finish. The tour is extremely worth while, but the guide we had spoke very poor English. My son and I are bilingual and would have been better off taking the tour with a Spanish-speaking guide.

The tour showcases Havana Club rum, Cuba’s stellar brand and whose circular red logo is omnipresent on the island. Unfortunately, this Cuban version of Havana Club rum is not sold in the U.S. due to the embargo. However, this has not deterred visitors from the States who have been returning with their suitcases replete with bottles of Havana Club and cigars due to the somewhat loosening of restrictions for travelers.

On Sunday January 2 2017, the program 60 Minutes aired a piece on the controversy around the Havana Club trademark and its distribution rights. Simply put, there is a turf war between Havana Club rum produced in Cuba and it’s counterpart that is made in Puerto Rico by Bacardi. The controversy has arisen with Pernod Ricard, which currently produces the Havana Club made in Cuba, battling with Bacardi over rights to the brand name with both sides laying claim to the name.The Havana Club battle is one of the most heated trademark disputes in recent history. It’s been going on for two decades now—and it’s become even more intense now that trade restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba are lifting. By the way, America’s drink about 40 percent of the world’s rum, so there is a huge potential market and a lot at stake.

Originally, Bacardi and Havana Club rums were rival spirits, and their founding families the Bacardis and the Arechabalas, respectively — were fierce competitors. Facundo Bacardi, started his company in 1862. Rum historians credit him with pioneering Cuban-style rum: lighter than other types, perfect for cocktails, but also aged and blended into fine sipping rums. The Arechabala company, founded in 1878, and other Cuban rum-makers worked in the shadow of Bacardi for many years.

In the 1930s with Americans in mind the Arechabalas introduced Havana Club. Years later Bacardi became a major producer of Havana Club, buying the brand from the Arechabala family. Both rum-making families fled Cuba in the 1960s after the government nationalized the island’s distilleries. However, this did not stop the Cuban government from continuing to produce Havana Club rum at the facilities that it expropriated. In fact, the Cuban version is now produced in a joint venture with French liquor giant Pernod Richard. As a result sales have grown even without selling the product in the U.S. market, because of the trade embargo imposed in 1962 against Cuba.

In 1994, Bacardi filed its own application for the U.S. trademark for Havana Club. It paid the Arechabala family $1.25 million for any rights to Havana Club that the family still possessed, plus a portion of any sales of Havana Club. Ever since then, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard have battled on legal and commercial fronts for ownership of the name. Bacardi appeared to win the rum war in 2006, when the Cubans and Pernod Ricard were not allowed to renew the trademark. However, now the dispute is back in U.S. District Court in Washington, where both sides are seeking a ruling on who owns Havana Club trademark.

Only time will tell how this all sorts out. So stay tuned for more updates.

Published in Living in Cuba

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