Havana Club rum hops Cuba trade embargo
By John Hansell
the Morning Call
Posted August 31 2006
Havana Club rum is now being sold in the United States. Break out those
Cuban-made Cohibas and light one up in celebration.
On second thought, you might not want to smoke that cigar just yet. The
trade embargo with Cuba wasn't lifted while you napped through most of
your vacation last week. This Havana Club rum is produced in Puerto
Rico, by Bacardi. It's not the Havana Club rum made in Cuba and sold in
other countries throughout the world (and smuggled in the suitcases and
carry-on bags of Americans traveling home from overseas).
Confused? You should be.
The Havana Club brand was created by the Arechabala family, in Cuba, in
1935. It was a favorite of Americans while experiencing Cuba's nightlife
and was even sold in the U.S. prior to the Cuban trade embargo
established in the early 1960s. In 1960, the Cuban government seized the
Arechabala family's company and all of its assets. The family fled Cuba
and sold the brand to Bacardi in the mid-1990s.
At the same time, the Cuban government registered the Havana Club
trademark in the U.S. in 1976. In 1993, it formed a joint venture with
drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard to sell Havana Club internationally
(except for the U.S., that is, because of the existing trade embargo).
Bacardi began selling rum under the Havana Club name in the mid-1990s,
but discontinued the sales shortly thereafter when they were sued by
Cuba and Pernod Ricard over the rights to the Havana Club name. For the
past decade, the issue has been in litigation in the U.S. courts.
On Aug. 3, the U.S. government declared Cuba's trademark registration
"canceled/expired." Basically, this means that the Cuban government no
longer has a claim to the Havana Club trademark in the U.S. Bacardi
immediately began selling its Puerto Rican version of Havana Club in the
U.S. According to Bacardi, the rum will initially be sold only in
Florida for about $20, but will expand its distribution to other markets
in the future.
Enough with all this legal mumbo jumbo, you say. Just tell me what the
stuff tastes like. Technically, it is a light rum. It is clear and
colorless. According to Bacardi, it is produced in the traditional
manner -- from molasses -- using the original Arechabala family formula.
"It [Havana Club from Puerto Rico] has the best of both worlds," says
Bacardi Master Blender Jose Gomez. "It has the complexity, roundness and
full flavor of an aged product, but at the same time it is extremely
smooth, light and mixable like a light rum."
Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology and host of
www.ardentspirits.com, offers a similar opinion: "Havana Club from
Puerto Rico is an incredibly well-crafted rum that mixologists are going
to find extremely useful for cocktail preparation. It's complex enough,
and smooth enough, to be sipped neat, or over ice, but it also has a
wonderful sharp quality that shines right through classics such as
mojitos and daiquiris. It will, no doubt, be the base of many new
cocktails to come, too."
It doesn't look like the battle over the Havana Club trademark will be
ending anytime soon, though. Pernod Ricard says it will sue over the
refusal of its application to renew the registration of the trademark
here in the U.S. They also vowed to sue any group that markets non-Cuban
rum under the Havana Club name in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Bacardi has claimed that the ruling by the U.S. government
means that it now is the owner of the Havana Club brand and they will
fight for the rights to the brand in markets outside of the U.S.