Rum Wars in Cuba

I am not sure Havana Club is quite as good, but the brand in the US thrives on the forbidden fruit thrill from the embargo. Will Trump reinstate it?
July 23, 2016

In taste test, which Havana Club rum will win?


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Does Cuba’s Havana Club rum hold up to its legend? The Washington Post invited four rum aficionados for a blind tasting of dark and light rums at Cubano’s restaurant in Silver Spring to find out. (Danielle Kunitz, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

In a warehouse stacked with casks and suffused with aromas of old oak and intoxicating spirits, Asbel Morales is always thinking years ahead. At 48, he’s one of eight maestros roneros, or master rum-makers, on the island. They maintain the quality and tradition of Cuban rum — a staple of the economy and national identity that conjures summer daydreams of Ernest Hemingway knocking back daiquiris in art deco bars, while somewhere the Buena Vista Social Club band plays forever.

Morales splashes a clear liquid onto his hands. It’s potent aguardiente, the soul of rum, fermented and distilled from the molasses of Cuban sugar cane. He rubs his wet hands, assessing its viscosity. He waves scoopfuls of air toward his face, inhaling yeasty traces of cane, alcohol and subtler notes.

“If the aguardiente isn’t right,” he says, “even if you age it 100 years, the rum will never turn out well.”

But not just any Cuban rum. In three to seven years — sometimes longer, depending on the flavor Morales is going for — after filtering, aging and blending, this rum will be bottled as Havana Club, one of the two most storied brands in the history of Cuba.

The other is Bacardi, no longer made in Cuba since shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959. For years, Bacardi and Havana Club rums were rival spirits, and their founding families — the Bacardis and the Arechabalas, respectively — were fierce competitors, until both clans were forced into exile in 1960.

The revolution didn’t end the rivalry. In time, a rum called Havana Club flowed out of Cuba and was eventually exported the world over — except to the United States. From a new base in Bermuda, Bacardi, too, went global, and Bacardi brand rum came to dominate the U.S. market.

Now, in a dramatic twist, another Havana Club is poised to make a big splash. After two decades of lawsuits, lobbying and congressional hearings, a Havana Club made by Bacardi is rolling out nationwide this summer and should be available in Washington by September.

It is not to be confused with the Havana Club made in Cuba by Morales and his colleagues.

Will the real Havana Club please fix us a daiquiri?

Within this splendidly bitter rum war — Havana Club vs. Havana Club — is a tale of geopolitical jousting that has more turns than a Cuban mambo. The drama is reaching a climax just as historic changes are taking place in the fraught relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

At its emotional core, the rum war is a proxy for an even more epic struggle over the brand of Cuba and Cuban identity. The saga of revolution and exile has left unresolved issues. Are some claims on what it is to be Cuban more legitimate — more authentic — than others?

Americans embrace all things Cuban

Morales’s aguardiente has been ripening just fine for Havana Club International, a joint venture between Cuba Ron, the state-owned rum enterprise, and the French liquor giant Pernod Ricard. Sales have grown tenfold since the partnership began in the early 1990s. Cuban Havana Club is the No. 3 rum in the world, with sales of 4 million cases a year in more than 120 countries — and that is without access to the U.S. market, because of the trade embargo imposed in 1962.

The French and Cuban partners were buoyed by the stunning announcement nearly two years ago that President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro resolved to normalize relations. Embassies re-opened, travel became easier. Then, earlier this year, the rum partners scored a surprise victory at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where the U.S. government reversed a decade of opposition and allowed Cuba to renew its disputed trademark for Havana Club.

Still, Congress has not heeded Obama’s call to lift the embargo. For now, Cuban Havana Club reaches U.S. shores primarily in the luggage of travelers.

The French and Cuban partners say it’s only a matter of time before trade is allowed to resume and their Havana Club can flow freely across the land.

“We are ready to face this market, no matter what the date,” says André Leymat, director general of the Havana Club distillery.

The potential is huge — and not just because Americans drink about 40 percent of the world’s rum. Fascination with all things Cuban is intensifying with each small step toward a full embrace of the Cold War adversary. Americans are visiting in record numbers. Charter cruises have launched; direct commercial flights are coming shortly. American movies and TV shows — “Fast 8,” “Cuban Chrome” — are rushing to be produced there for the first time in half a century.

The appeal is bigger than any single product or experience. What’s for sale is the cachet of Cuba itself — once forbidden, now trendy. If only it could be bottled.

“For us, rum is not just merchandise; it’s also the expression of a culture,” rum master Morales says. “It’s something inherited from previous generations, passed down Cuban to Cuban for more than 150 years. You must never betray the rum.”

Bacardi International has sold its version of Havana Club in select markets. The label doesn’t mention Bacardi — but does list Puerto Rico. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

A 1936 Bacardi advertisement evokes dazzle and glamour from an era where people visited Cuba for its cocktail culture. (Bacardi/Bacardi)

Clash of the liquor giants

It’s early June in the posh Faena Hotel in Miami Beach, where Bacardi is celebrating the national launch of a line of rums with the help of blue-feathered showgirls, salsa dancers and a 10-piece band playing Cuban classics.

The bash is meant to evoke what Bacardi calls the “golden age” of cocktails in Havana, in the middle of the last century, when Americans flocked to their favorite tropical sin city, until the revolution killed the party.

Waiters in guayaberas carry bottles of the rums — one clear, one amber — like icons on mirrored trays.

The name of the brand is printed in big letters on the labels:

“Havana Club.”

Almost as big is: “Puerto Rican Rum.”

Nowhere on the label is Bacardi cited.

The clear Añejo Blanco is a tweaked version of a white Havana Club that Bacardi has been selling in a handful of markets. The amber Añejo Clásico is new — or maybe old. Bacardi says both rums are based on a recipe the Arechabalas used to make Havana Club until 1960.

It’s a rival line of Havana Club for sure.

A “falsa Havana Club,” in the words of Morales.

But then, Bacardi’s lawyers call the Cuban Havana Club an “ersatz Havana Club.”

Which is the real Havana Club?

The question lies at the heart of this titanic showdown between the world’s fourth-largest spirits company (Bacardi) and the second-largest (Pernod Ricard).

Bacardi is the top rum-seller in the United States (7 million cases a year) and in the world (17 million cases). It has evolved into a global powerhouse in other spirits, too, with such brands as Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin.

Rum is a comparatively smaller part of Pernod Ricard’s lineup. Still, Havana Club is one of the company’s top 10 brands, behind the likes of Absolut Vodka and Jameson Irish Whiskey.

“For many years, Bacardi played the rum game with one brand, the brand that carried the name of the family, and that is ‘Bacardi,’ ” Fabio Di Giammarco, global vice president of rums for Bacardi, says. “We know we have consumers who are more and more interested in brands that deliver a story. We think this is a brand that has a very rich story.”

One of the names on the guest list at Bacardi’s Havana Club party in Miami Beach is part of that story: Arechabala. Some heirs of the rum-making family attended.

After the revolution, the Arechabalas let their American trademark for Havana Club lapse, and they drifted into other lines of work. The label on the Bacardi Havana Club sketches their story, a kind of counternarrative to the one Morales tells in his Cuban rum warehouse.

“Our family was disheartened after the forced exile from Cuba, and has always felt the need for justice for what happened to our ancestors,” José Arechabala, a great-grandson of the founder, says in a statement released by Bacardi. “We feel their life’s work continues to live on through this rebranding of Havana Club.”

Fidel Castro, at left, led the revolution that would pitch Cuba into isolation from the Western world. Rum operations were seized in the aftermath, and many families fled. (Associated Press)

A 1930s photo of the José́ Arechabala distilling columns in Cardenas, Cuba. (Bacardi)

‘From now on, I am Pepe’

In the beginning was Facundo Bacardi, who launched 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.

Americans discovered Cuban rum when veterans of the Spanish-American War returned home. A plaque in the Army and Navy Club in Washington commemorates the moment in 1909 when, as the story goes, the daiquiri was introduced in the club’s bar after being invented in Daiquirí, Cuba.

American appreciation of Cuban rum deepened during Prohibition, when partyers made their way to the island to slake their thirst. Later, Hemingway wrote about El Floridita, the Havana bar where he refueled on daiquiris.

The Arechabalas introduced Havana Club with Americans in mind in 1934. The name of the Cuban capital was spelled in English, rather than the Spanish “Habana.” Soon Havana Club was served in places such as the Stork Club, a high-society night spot in Manhattan.

Bacardi executives initially supported Fidel Castro, according to journalist Tom Gjelten’s 2008 book “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba.” They toasted brother Raúl Castro’s 1959 wedding to a revolutionary fighter who was the daughter of a Bacardi executive.

The Arechabalas, on the other hand, according to Gjelten, sympathized with dictator Fulgencio Batista, whom Fidel Castro overthrew.

Soldiers showed up at the Havana Club office on New Year’s Day 1960. The late Ramón Arechabala was a sales manager, while one of the top executives, his uncle José María Arechabala, or “Pepe,” was in Spain.

“From now on, I am Pepe, and you people will do as I say,” declared a military commander, as Ramón Arechabala recalled in court testimony in 1999.

“I say, ‘Okay, no problem, whatever you say,’ ” he testified, “because he was armed with a machine gun.”

The Bacardis’ Cuban rum operation was seized nine months later. Their company already had significant rum facilities abroad.

Ramón Arechabala, on the other hand, went on to sell cars in Miami.

In 1973, he realized that the Havana Club trademark was due for renewal. He asked his uncle whether they should file the paperwork.

His uncle said no. The family did not have enough money to produce rum in the U.S. and mistakenly believed they couldn’t renew the trademark without making rum.

“He told me we could not do anything right now with it, because, ‘Let’s wait because we might be going back to Cuba any moment,’ ” Arechabala testified.

In 1976, a state-owned Cuban enterprise secured the American trademark for Havana Club. It was a cunning yet hopeful investment in the day when Cuban rum might once again be poured on the other side of the Florida Straits.

The bat, logo of Bacardi, sits atop the art deco building once used as the company headquarters in Havana. (Reuters)

Artists have incorporated the Havana Club logo into their work as an element of Cuban identity. (Eliana Aponte/For The Washington Post)

Much depends on a U.S. trademark

The rum war was declared nearly 20 years later, when two things happened.

In 1993, news broke that Pernod Ricard had struck a deal to become equal partners in Havana Club. (Pernod Ricard declines to specify terms of the partnership. Fidel Castro has referred to it this way: “Long live the peasant-worker alliance and the friendship with Pernod Ricard!”)

In 1994, Bacardi filed its own application for the U.S. trademark for Havana Club. Bacardi 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, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard have battled on legal, regulatory, political and commercial fronts.

The Arechabalas “were free to maintain the trademark if they wanted to; they only had to pay a $25 fee,” says Ian FitzSimons, general counsel for Pernod Ricard. “The moment they abandoned the trademark in 1973, the trademark fell into the public domain.”

“At the end of the day, [Pernod Ricard] partnered with the Cuban government for property that is stolen,” says Rick Wilson, Bacardi’s senior vice president for external affairs. The law does not recognize trademark rights connected with confiscated Cuban property, he adds.

The American trademark was not stolen, FitzSimons counters, because “the Arechabalas were able to keep their trademark registration up until 1973, 13 years after the Cuban revolution. They chose not to take the necessary steps to keep it after that.”

Nor is Cuban Havana Club being made with seized Arechabala property, he says. The Cubans built a new distillery in the 1970s. Pernod Ricard added a state-of-the-art distillery in 2007, where Asbel Morales works.

Wilson argues that what matters in the law is intent and that the Arechabalas never intended to surrender their trademark. Over the years, they attempted to find partners with capital to make rum in the United States. Further, Wilson says, trademarks are founded on actual use, not mere paperwork.

“The only people to have used the Havana Club trademark in the United States have been Arechabala and Bacardi,” Wilson says.

Bacardi appeared to win the rum war in 2006, when the Cubans and Pernod Ricard were not allowed to renew the trademark. The reason: New rules required a license from the Treasury Department to write a check for the renewal fee of several hundred dollars. Treasury, on advice from the State Department, refused to grant the license.

The case was still pending in the trademark office early this year — though Bacardi disputes that the matter was truly alive — when the rum world turned upside down.

“In light of a number of factors, including … the landmark shift in U.S. policy toward bilateral relations with Cuba,” the State Department advised the Treasury Department to give the Cubans and Pernod Ricard permission to write the check to renew the trademark through 2026, a State Department official testified before a House subcommittee in February.

Now the dispute is back in U.S. District Court in Washington, where both sides are seeking a ruling on who owns Havana Club. The case could last well into 2017. Meanwhile, Bacardi’s Havana Club will be sold in the U.S.

If Bacardi prevails, the French-Cuban partnership has a backup plan. It has registered the name “Havanista.” Under one name or another, should the embargo be lifted, they will be the first to sell Americans a rum that is actually “made in Cuba.”

How much that matters is the last and perhaps most important front in the rum war. Authenticity is like another flavor note.

“It’s not just the juice,” says spirits writer Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails” (2006). “There’s a lot of money to be made in selling that Cuban story to Americans, who want to have that authentic brand.”

A couple settles in for a relaxing day at Megano Beach outside of Havana. (Eliana Aponte/For The Washington Post)

People linger at the Malecón, Havana’s sea wall, as the sun drops. (Eliana Aponte/For The Washington Post)

‘If I don’t drink Havana Club,
I’m not Cuban’

At sunset on the Malecón, Havana’s sea wall, Lazaro Rizo Modochi, 46, a cook, and his wife, Merlin Fernandez, 42, are strolling and sharing the remains of a bottle of Havana Club, accompanied by their twin 13-year-old daughters, Yaremi and Yaneisi. It’s a Saturday evening tradition for the family.

“Havana Club of Cuba is richness, it’s the sugar cane, it’s the African heritage of the cane-cutters — all that is Havana Club,” Rizosays. “If I’m in Italy or France and I drink Havana Club, I’m in Cuba. If I don’t drink Havana Club, I’m not Cuban.”

After Rizo takes his last swig, he kisses the bottle and throws it into the sea, toward the north.

“A message to Miami,” he says.

The logo is ubiquitous in Havana — on bicitaxis, on the tunics of parking lot attendants (“If you drink, don’t drive”), even in the paintings sold by street artists.

“When there’s an opening of the blockade, Havana Club will present to the United States a symbol of Cuba,” says Luis Rodriguez, a barman at the Bar San Juan in central Havana, where singer Beny Moré is said to have drunk Cuba libres before the revolution. “It represents traditional Cuban rum.”

Across a plaza from the cathedral, a plaque on what is now the Museum of Colonial Art notes that the 18th-century mansion used to be the offices of the Arechabala rum company. Graham Greene, in his novel “Our Man in Havana,” set a fateful checkers match here in the Havana Club bar, where free drinks were served to tourists in the hope they would buy bottles to take home.

Several blocks away, the majestic art deco Bacardi Building now contains travel offices, while its signature bat, wings spread, still presides atop the tower.

At El Floridita — where a statue of Hemingway occupies a spot at the end of the bar — the periodic arrival and departure of busloads of tourists give a tidal rhythm to midday, as a band plays hits from the Buena Vista Social Club. Veteran bartender Manuel Carbajo Aguiar grabs a bottle of Havana Club and raises his arm high in a showy pour of a silver stream into one of four blenders purring simultaneously. In a flash, he fills two dozen glasses with tangy-sweet and icy daiquiris.

“Havana Club has status,” Carbajo says. “If you’re relaxing with friends and on the table is a bottle of Havana Club, it gives the moment more personality than another rum … Havana Club is the rum that represents Cuban-ness.”

Two can play the authenticity game.

The labels on Bacardi’s Havana Club carry a picture of founder José Arechabala and the phrase “based on a recipe created in Cuba.”

The labels’ synopsis of the family’s story continues: “Decades later, this family of rum makers would be forced to flee during the Cuban Revolution, precious recipe in hand. After years of controversy, this well-kept treasure has been dusted off once again for crafting this incomparable rum in Puerto Rico.”

Bacardi does not claim to have resurrected the exact Arechabala Havana Club. The chain of knowledge from rum master to rum master was broken for too long. Certain ingredients are different. The technology is modern. A single recipe can yield a variety of flavors.

Still, the result is close, says David Cid, global ambassador of rum for Bacardi: “We are applying the Arechabalas’ techniques and methodologies along with our yeast with the aim of replicating the aroma and flavor balance of the original Havana Club.”

“What certainly cannot be said is that the other Havana Club has anything to do with the original,” Bacardi’s Di Giammarco says.

Indeed, the Cuban Havana Club was created after the revolution, though the bottles say “Fundada en 1878,” the year José Arechabala founded his rum company.

“The only Havana Club I know comes from Cuba,” says Jérôme Cottin-Bizonne, chief executive of Havana Club International, the Pernod Ricard-Cuban joint venture. “If the rum is not made in Cuba by a master of Cuban rum, if it’s not made with Cuban sugar cane, you can’t make the same product.”

But how does it taste?

The most recent skirmish in the rum war takes place on a Friday afternoon at Cubano’s restaurant in Silver Spring: Four experienced spirits tasters conduct a blind test at the invitation of The Washington Post.

It’s Havana Club vs. Havana Club: Bacardi’s Añejo Blanco and Añejo Clásico against the Cuban Añejo 3 Años (white) and Añejo 7 Años (dark). The Bacardi contenders cost about $20 and $22 for a 750-milliliter bottle, respectively. The Cuban rums sell for about $7 and $18 in Havana.

To confound the tasters, we throw in two more white rums — regular Bacardi Superior and premium Caña Brava by The 86 Co.

Amid the sounds of slurping and deep inhaling, the four Havana Clubs quickly distinguish themselves over the other two. Then things get interesting.

“I love the way that it decays on the palate,” says Lukas B. Smith, a bartender at Dram and Grain who is helping to launch the Cotton & Reed rum distillery planned for Washington. He’s tasting the Bacardi Añejo Clásico, though he doesn’t know it.

“It has this soft heat,” says M. Carrie Allan, spirits columnist for The Post.

“If you still have training wheels on” — if you’re not a sophisticated drinker — “you’re not going to like that,” says Jarad Slipp, estate director of RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Va.

“I love it,” says Adolfo Mendez, owner of Cubano’s, who left Cuba just after the revolution when he was 3.

Then they try the Cuban Añejo 7 Años, again without knowing its identity.

“It’s definitely a crowd-pleaser,” Smith says, calling it “a mouth bomb.” “I think they might have overdone the sugar a little bit.”

All the tasters guess that this sweet, brash pleaser is by Bacardi, while the subtler, “handmade”-tasting rum is from Cuba.


“Wow!” they exclaim.

As for the white Havana Clubs, the tasters are divided. A couple find that the sweeter Cuban entry is richer and more flavorful than Bacardi’s. To others, the Cuban sweetness is a bid for mass appeal.

“Basically, these are both big fat sweet tourist rums,” Smith says of the Cuban Havana Clubs.

“There’s a reason why [the Bacardi Havana Clubs] are in a different label and not branded under Bacardi proper, which is that people who typically drink Bacardi wouldn’t get it,” Slipp says. “Good on [Cuban] Havana Club, because they’re going to be getting a lot more tourists now, and they’re making a tourist-driven product.”

“Maybe that’s part of the tradition,” Allan says. “One of the things that I thought was interesting here was the idea that ‘authenticity’ … doesn’t necessarily mean nuance, subtlety. Something that is authentic is not necessarily better out of the bottle.”

Mendez proposes a compromise. He places the bottle of Bacardi dark Havana Club and the bottle of Cuban light Havana Club together on the table — his two favorites.

“These two guys are inseparable,” he says. “I support them both.”

It’s a pleasant vision — perhaps inspired by the warmth of fine spirits — the idea of a reunited front of great Cuban rums. A Havana Club all-star team. But for now, in this rum war, you have to choose sides.

Rum Rebellion?

Rumpundit from the beginning of this saga has maintained that the Caricom countries have a great case for the WTO. Interesting point for the future… does the Puerto Rico statehood vote affect the subsidy down the line?

Rum, rivalry, resistance

Sir Ronald Sanders

23 December 2012

THE Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade ministers issued a statement on December 11 stating that “Caricom countries continue to have serious concerns about the threat to the competitiveness of Caribbean rum in the United States market resulting from the massive subsidies provided by the governments of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico to multinational rum producers in those territories”.

After seven months of writing about this matter, I welcome this statement from the trade ministers underlying that “rum production and export are critical to the social and economic well-being of the region”.

Much valuable time has been lost and much has to be done quickly if the rum industry of the CARIFORUM countries is not to be displaced in the US market. CARIFORUM consists of the 14 independent Caricom countries and the Dominican Republic.

In previous commentaries I drew attention to the adverse effects on CARIFORUM countries if the USVI and Puerto Rico governments continue to provide massive subsidies to rum companies in their territories — derived from a tax refund from the US Federal Government called a “cover-over” tax. To recap, CARIFORUM countries stand to lose US$700 million in foreign exchange annually, the jobs of 15,000 workers directly employed in the rum industry, and another 60,000 jobs that benefit from it. Governments will lose over US$250 million in annual tax revenues.

I have also pointed out that bulk rum producers in some Caricom states have already lost contracts in the US market valued at millions of dollars because of the cheaper prices of the heavily subsidised USVI rum producers.

This situation will get far worse as these heavily subsidised companies increase production.

Because I had also pointed out that the CARIFORUM country that would be the biggest loser is Barbados, it is encouraging to see Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart stating in Parliament on December 18 that, “We cannot rule out the prospect of this matter reaching the WTO”, although he added, “but that is not the first-resort expedience”. Rum exports to the US market in 2010 were worth US$17.2 m to Barbados — twice as much as its exports to the European Union market.

Delay in taking firm action is not in the interest of CARIFORUM countries. The longer they wait to stop these subsidies, the more unfairly entrenched the subsidised companies in the USVI and Puerto Rico will become in the US market.

Diplomatic efforts have been made consistently during the past few months and, by all accounts, the Barbadian ambassador to the US, John Beale, has been particularly active. But these efforts have produced no meaningful results. A letter written on August 24 to US President Barack Obama by St Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, as chairman of Caricom, has remained unanswered, and a previous letter on August 9, sent by CARIFORUM ambassadors in Washington to the US trade Representative, Ron Kirk, received a non-committal reply in October.

This led Caricom trade ministers, at their December meeting, to call on the US Government “to engage early with Caribbean rum-producing countries with a view to achieving an outcome that will support the continued competitive access for Caribbean rum to the US market”.

Frankly, there is not much chance of the US Government responding to that call, anymore than anyone should expect — as has been suggested — US Attorney-General Eric Holder to be helpful because “his parents were born in Barbados”.

The US Government did not pick this fight. Neither did the CARIFORUM countries. The local governments of the USVI and Puerto Rico have created the situation. Unfortunately for the US Federal Government, it has responsibility for the actions of its territories under international law and treaties. So, inasmuch as neither the US Government nor the CARIFORUM governments like it, they have a dispute on their hands, and it cannot be solved by diplomatic consultations alone. In the US, this is not a matter for the Government only; Congress also has a hand in it. And little or nothing will be done without compulsion.

The only compulsion is what some CARIFORUM governments appear reluctant to invoke, and that is to take the matter to the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

CARIFORUM governments have received at least three expert legal opinions that WTO rules have been violated by the actions of the USVI and Puerto Rico governments, and they have an eminently winnable case against the US at the WTO. There should be no stopping them now.

Throughout its history, rum producers from Caricom countries have faced unfair rivalry. They have been compelled to resist, as recorded in the excellent account, Rum, Rivalry and Resistance by Tony Talburt, published by Hansib in 2010.

Resistance continues to be necessary to safeguard this spirit which is so deeply intertwined with our Caribbean civilisation. The Government of the Dominican Republic has shown its readiness to proceed to the WTO; indications are that Barbados may now be willing to join. All of the governments of the CARIFORUM countries have a duty of care to their people; they will be doing no more than fulfilling that duty by going to the WTO. At the very least, the governments of Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago should throw their weight behind the Dominican Republic and Barbados.

Those CARIFORUM countries that do not join resistance at the WTO will not only show no spirit, they will also be entitled to no benefits that may be awarded. And, if none of them do anything other than engage in the delaying exercise of diplomatic consultations with the US, more than the spirituous Caribbean rum will die; the Caribbean spirit of resistance will die too.

The US Trade Representative’s Office is expert at prolonging “consultations” and delaying WTO arbitration. But time is not on the side of CARIFORUM rums, as trade ministers agreed.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a consultant and visiting fellow, London University

Responses and previous commentaries:

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Pirate Ambush?

A cunning piratical ambush – while Bacardi grapples alongside Havana Club.. Cap’n Morgan swoops in and gets the gold..Rumpundit

Diageo aims to take on Bacardi

  • By Robyn Black
  • 14/04/2011 09:14

Diageo has announced its intention to take on Bacardi to become the number one rum company in the world by 2015.

Captain Morgan: kick-starting Diageo push to become number one rum company 

The owner of rum brands Captain Morgan, Bundaberg and Pampero currently has a 17% share of the UK rum market and sees further growth coming from golden and dark rum and golden rum-based spirits.

To kick-start the push, the company has earmarked £7m for its Morgan’s Spiced brand, renaming it Captain Morgan’s Spiced and investing in a TV campaign and on-trade push.

“Consumers may already be aware of the Captain Morgan brand from the dark rum currently available in the UK market,” said marketing manager Ali Wilkes.

“The addition of the Captain figurehead to the title and the label of Morgan’s Spiced will create synergy across the two brands and also give Morgan’s Spiced an identifiable personality.”

The campaign will be aimed at 18 to 24-year-old male drinkers and focus on the “Captain and cola” serve, which is already the number two bar call in the US, according to Diageo.

As well as the planned TV campaign, set for this autumn, the company is joining forces with the NUS, Luminar and other pub companies to host 3,000 party nights, due to be held between this June and June of next year.

Sampling, PoS kits and visits from the Captain and his “Morganettes” will create buzz and excitement around the brand, said Wilkes.

Angostora’s Bitter?

It was sold as an attempt to build a regional giant to compete in world markets – but there’s something about financial engineering that takes the heart out of distillation…Rumpundit

Exodus from Lascelles’ board

McConnell, Bell and Abrahams stepping down

BY AL EDWARDS Caribbean Business Report Editor



Wednesday, March 30, 2011


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THREE Jamaican Board members of Trinidadian-acquired conglomerate Lascelles De Mercado, namely William McConnell, Anthony Bell and Jason Abrahams are to step down, the Jamaica Observer understands.

Managing Director of Lascelles, McConnell, is credited with turning the rum division into a world-class outfit and one of the best rum producers in the region.

William McConnell


He joined Lascelles subsidiary J Wray & Nephew as Financial Accountant in 1973 and has served as Managing Director of the Wray & Nephew Group of Companies since 1977.

Bell served as Group Finance Director having been with the group for well over two decades. He played a vital role in turning the flagship division – Rum, Wines and Liquors – into a powerhouse and oversaw Canada overtaking Mexico as Appleton’s biggest overseas market.

The prospect of both McConnell and Bell forming a consortium and acquiring the rum division and spinning it off from the Group has been mooted for sometime, especially given the heavily indebted status of parent company CL Financial.

Abrahams meanwhile, is a Jamaican investment banker based in Florida who was instrumental in structuring and securing the deal that saw CL Financial subsidiary Angostura acquire Lascelles in 2008.

In that year Lawrence Duprey’s CL Financial raised external debt financing in the amount of US$450 million to finance the Lascelles acquisition which amounted to US$676 million.

For its money, CL Financial got 86.87 per cent of Lascelles’ common stock.

With Duprey’s group of companies falling asunder in 2009, CL Financial Group’s financial director Michael Carballo intimated at Lascelles AGM that year, that CL Financial may have to turn to Lascelles to finance the US$340 million loan balance it had from the purchase of the Jamaican conglomerate.

One of the major problems CL Financial had was the intertwining of assets and its insatiable thirst for cash which served to bedevil the fortunes of Lascelles’ group of companies. The financial uncertainty and inability to  provide a coherent direction for the Jamaican group may well be a contributory factor in seeing McConnell, Bell and Abrahams heading for the door.

In 2010, Lascelles’ third-quarter sales for the period ending June 30 slumped by $700 million to come in at $6 billion. Net profit dramatically fell to $363 million from $1.39 billion for the same period in 2009.

For the first quarter ended December 31, 2010, Lascelles reported unaudited consolidated earnings results which saw  an operating profit of $931.1 million and a net profit of $821.3 million on operating revenues of $7.1 billion.

Lascelles is expected to report its second quarter 2011 results on May 11.

PR Rum Festival Good PR

Rum Festival – Rum Cited As Tourism And Economic Driver For Puerto Rico

Taste of Rum Festival Highlights Importance of Rum to Puerto Rico

Looking at the success of this past weekend’s 2011 Taste of Rum Festival in San Juan, one thing is obvious – rum is more than just a drink. It is also a tourism and economic driver for Puerto Rico.

The third annual Taste of Rum provided patrons with the opportunity to show local pride and celebrate Puerto Rico’s centuries old rum industry. As news of the festival has traveled beyond the Island, visitors from the mainland United States and throughout the Caribbean are now coming to San Juan to learn more about rum. The festival has become so popular that it was extended to two days this year.

“Our goal with the Taste of Rum festival is multi-faceted,” said Nicole J. Rodriguez, Director of Rums of Puerto Rico, the sponsor of the event and the umbrella marketing program for the collection of the world’s finest rums. “The festival started as a way to showcase all rums produced internationally. This year we’re highlighting only the finest rums in the word, Puerto Rican rums. The festival gives us the opportunity to show the impact that the rum industry has on our economy and promote rum tasting as an additional reason for rum fans to visit Puerto Rico on vacation.”

This year, the two-day event attracted 3,000 visitors, more than double the attendees in 2010. Approximately one-third of the attendees came from outside Puerto Rico. In addition to sampling rum drinks created by celebrity mixologists, visitors were able to enjoy foods, such as barbeque, created with rum, listen to local music, watch skilled flair tender (bottle juggling) competitions and participate in exclusive seminars to learn more about what makes Puerto Rico’s rums so special.

“Puerto Rico’s rum industry already provides more than 70 percent of the rum sold in the United States,” said Jose Ramon Perez-Riera, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce, which oversees Rums of Puerto Rico operations. “Rums continue to remain both a driver of the Puerto Rican economy and an ambassador for the Island. By adding a tourism component to the rums campaign, we hope to attract additional visitors to the Island and increase sales of our fine products”

“Our goal is to establish the Taste of Rum festival as the preeminent rum event in the world,” continued Rodriguez. “We want rum fans to think about coming to Puerto Rico in the same way that wine fans plan to travel to Napa Valley or scotch whiskey fans schedule a vacation in the United Kingdom. Taste of Rum is the backbone in this effort.”

This is the first festival held since the launch of the “Just Think, Puerto Rican Rum” campaign in February. The campaign underscores the award-winning attributes that make Puerto Rican rums stand out from their competitors. For example, the campaign reminds consumers about Puerto Rico’s centuries old tradition of rum making; the legally-mandated, one-year aging of certain rums in white oak barrels; and the Island’s commitment to excellence. The result: Puerto Rican rums, including Bacardi, Don Q, Ron Llave, Ron del Barrilito and Palo Viejo, are the finest rums in the world.

About Rums of Puerto Rico

Rums of Puerto Rico, a division of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), was created in 1948 to administrate the advertising and promotional programs that encourage the consumption of rum and protect its leadership in the United States market. The quality brands produced in Puerto Rico are aged at least one year by law. This sets the standard of excellence that includes only the finest rums and offers an extensive choice in the rum category including Bacardi, Don Q, Ron Llave, Ron del Barrilito and Palo Viejo, among others.

About The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Corporation (PRIDCO)

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) is a government-owned corporation dedicated to promoting Puerto Rico as an investment destination for companies and industries worldwide. Since its establishment in 1950, PRIDCO has led the efforts in the industrialization of the Island. PRIDCO continues to be a catalyst for Puerto Rico’s economic development, leading the transformation from a traditional industrial economy to an economy based on knowledge. PRIDCO emphasizes promoting high technology industries among sectors such as the life sciences, technology, computing and services that leverage on Puerto Rico’s unique combination of tax incentives, skilled workforce, strong infrastructure and excellent business climate.

Greg Stanko
Rums of Puerto Rico
web site

Bundaberg Bounds Back

Bundy Rum gets a revamp

Emily Prain | 26th March 2011

THE city's famous Bundaberg Rum is going under the knife for a brand makeover aiming to bring more sophistication to its product.BDC Bondstore staff members Teena Hetherington, Shannyn Smith and Haley Cassady with the new branding.

Mike Knott

THE city’s famous Bundaberg Rum is going under the knife for a brand makeover aiming to bring more sophistication to its product, and put common stereotypes of its drinkers to rest.

The starting point is a new logo for the Bundaberg Distilling Company, which includes its three founding fathers, the famous Bundy rum bottle shape and the cane sugar that made the region famous all those years ago.

Bundaberg Distilling Company marketing manager Matt Bruhn said it was important for the brand to not lose touch with its consumers.

“We are constantly keeping up to date,” he said.

The NewsMail took to the streets to find out what people’s perceptions of the brand were and the majority of the responses associated the brew with being “ochre” and “bogan” – and not appealing to women.

“That’s not how we see it – we like to be seen as a great Aussie brand,” Mr Bruhn said.

He claimed 50% of the drop’s drinkers were women and said the company was proud of that fact.

Mr Bruhn said other changes for the famous brand included an entire update of all packaging, new advertising, the release of the 10-year-old Master Distillers Collection and the launch of a new website,

“The brand will continue to build its rum-crafting credentials,” Mr Bruhn said.

Bundaberg man Ryan Turner-Walsh said he felt the brand did not have as much variety as in recent years.

“They should try to make up a new type of rum – something that’s bold,” he said.

Kraken puts tentacles into TV

Kraken Hokum – but Enjoyable


US: Proximo Spirits gives The Kraken TV push

By: editorial team | 15 March 2011

Proximo Spirits has lined up a television advert for its black spiced rum brand The Kraken.

The ad, which breaks next month across a number of cable networks, including ESPN, forms part of a marketing programme including a website, social media presence, a national sampling programme, an online merchandise store and an iPhone app.

The Kraken, which is named after a mythical giant squid, was launched internationally 18 months ago.

Formed in 2007, Proximo’s portfolio includes Three Olives Vodka, 1800 Tequila, Stranahan’s Whiskey and Hangar One Vodka.

Poles Apart in Colombia with Dictador

Wandering around the Las Vegas International Bar and Night Club show is an otherworldly existence. Model Agencies from as far away as LA had been tapped to provide skimpily clad marketing assistants, but Dictador’s stand stood out.  Its models in kitschy festishistic outfits matched its black bottles, coated in sensual rubber smooth enough to make anyone think that they had incorporated lubricant in the glass.

Dictador is a Columbian Rum born, or rather reborn, of an unusual match. Polish fashion designer Tomasz Bogdanski was on vacation in Cartagena when he tasted the product made by Hernan Parra Arango’s family distillery. Hernan’s father had urged closing the business down,  but he wanted to keep it going, and Bogdanski’s capital and global sales team, not to mention his design and marketing skills led to the happy combination with Hernan as the President and Mariusz Jawoszek as Chairman.

But the rum is almost as smooth as the bottle!  Selling in 12, 20 and XO, it is a mature rum, subtle but with the oak overtones and clearly has no sugar added. Solera rums often tend to be on the sweeter side but in this is a rum for grownups, and in fact won a gold medal in the Polished Palate  category in. It has already been selling worldwide, including in China, and is now launching in the US.

In solidarity with the Dictador!

PR for PR!

Recovering from the desertion of Cap’n Morgan, PR Rums kick back! Rumpundit.

Rums of Puerto Rico Encourages Consumers to ‘Just Think, Puerto Rican Rum’

2011 Campaign to Remind Consumers of another way Puerto Rico Does it Better

Rums of Puerto Rico

February 23, 2011 3:17pm EST

NEW YORK, Feb. 23, 2011 — /PRNewswire/ — If you’ve got it, flaunt it! As part of the government of Puerto Rico’s efforts to remind the audience that Puerto Rico does it better and promote the quality products produced on the Island, Rums of Puerto Rico, the umbrella marketing organization for the collection of the world’s finest rums, today launched its 2011 campaign in New York City. The campaign underscores the award-winning attributes that make Puerto Rican rums stand out from their competitors. Consumers are encouraged to “Just Think, Puerto Rican Rum” when ordering a rum-based drink.

The campaign reminds consumers about Puerto Rico’s centuries old tradition of rum making; the legally-mandated, one-year aging of certain rums in white oak barrels; and the Island’s commitment to excellence. The result: Puerto Rican rums, including Bacardi, Don Q, Ron Llave, Ron del Barrilito and Palo Viejo, are the finest rums in the world.

“Puerto Rico’s rum industry provides more than 70 percent of the rum sold in the United States,” said Jose Ramon Perez-Riera, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce, which is the parent organization of Rums of Puerto Rico. “Rums continue to remain both an economic driver of the Puerto Rican economy and an economic ambassador for the Island.”

The $2 million marketing campaign will tell this story through print, digital and out-of-home messaging in New York, Washington, DC and Miami, and will be supported by public relations and social media efforts and an upgraded web site ( The campaign also will include a series of events and partnerships throughout the year, including a launch event at the Empire State Building featuring Food Network chef Claire Robinson and rum ambassadors from Puerto Rico and the extension of contracts for the exclusive Rums of Puerto Rico lounges and spaces at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Citi Field.

Nicole J. Rodriguez, Director of Rums of Puerto Rico, added that “one goal of the new campaign is to tie together all of Puerto Rico’s marketing efforts under a single theme: quality. Whether it is our beautiful beaches, friendly, bilingual workforce, or our superior rums, we want Americans to say the same thing when they think about Puerto Rico: “Puerto Rico equals quality.”

“Rum drinks are so much more than the ubiquitous rum and coke or your grandmother’s daiquiri,” said Claire Robinson, host of Food Network’s “Five Ingredient Fix.” “Because Puerto Rican rum mixes well with everything, you can use it to create new drinks or improve existing ones. For a spin on the classic cosmopolitan, try substituting Bacardi Limon or Don Q Limon for vodka and you will be delighted by the taste.”

The “Just Think, Puerto Rican Rum” tagline is tied to other Puerto Rico promotion efforts, including the Puerto Rican Tourism Company’s “Just Think, Puerto Rico” campaign, which launched last fall in New York City. Both campaigns also employ the green and black “Puerto Rico Does It Better” logo that is now appearing on all of the government’s promotional materials.

About Rums of Puerto Rico

Rums of Puerto Rico, a division of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), was created in 1948 to administrate the advertising and promotional programs that encourage the consumption of rum and protect its leadership in the United States market. The quality brands produced in Puerto Rico are aged at least one year by law. This sets the standard of excellence that includes only the finest rums and offers an extensive choice in the rum category including Bacardi, Don Q, Ron Llave, Ron del Barrilito and Palo Viejo, among others.

About The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Corporation (PRIDCO)

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) is a government-owned corporation dedicated to promoting Puerto Rico as an investment destination for companies and industries worldwide. Since its establishment in 1950, PRIDCO has led the efforts in the industrialization of the Island. PRIDCO continues to be a catalyst for Puerto Rico’s economic development, leading the transformation from a traditional industrial economy to an economy based on knowledge. PRIDCO emphasizes promoting high technology industries among sectors such as the life sciences, technology, computing and services that leverage on Puerto Rico’s unique combination of tax incentives, skilled workforce, strong infrastructure and excellent business climate.

SOURCE Rums of Puerto Rico

Seven Fathom hits new heights..

Sceptics have cast doubt on their claim to age their rum at a depth of seven fathoms… but it’s taking off! Rumpundit

Expansion creates new jobs soon

Posted Sat, Feb 26th 2011, 07:38
(Grand Cayman – CITN) –


The Cayman Islands Distillery, a small local business that are the makers of Seven Fathoms Rum, is hoping to create up to 20 new jobs as it expands its operations.

Due to demand, the business is preparing to build a new larger rum-making facility to go along with its small home on North Church Street.

“That demand can not be met with our current facility. So the expansion will facilitate exportation of the product,” Co-founder Nelson Dilbert said.

Mr. Dilbert said the company is committed to hiring as many Caymanians as possible –from sales and delivery, to those with skills to do the distilling.

“Very, very limited jobs here in the country for that, so we are looking to hire people like that,” he said.

New spirits, including vodka are being planned as well, which should be good for the bottom line coupled with Seven Fathoms rising popularity.

“We’ve grown quite quickly over the past four year and we’re looking to make it something that is going to go global,” Mr. Dilbert said.

No site has been selected for the new building as yet, although Mr. Dilbert said they’ve narrowed it down to three locations.

“The new facility we hope to put into a better location as well, that will be in the future, a tour-able facility.”

But there are no immediate plans to abandon the current location downtown.

“As long as we can maintain it… as a tourist sort of visiting facility,” Mr. Dilbert said.

The company said in addition to more jobs for locals, it is eager to buy as much locally grown sugar cane as possible, providing more opportunities for local farmers.

Cayman 27’s Ben Meade has the video report above.