Will the real Havana Club please stand up?

Over the last few months there has been increasing conversation about Castro’s health, Havana Club and Bacardi, not necessarily in that order. For a little background, Pernod Ricard partnered with the Cuban government in a deal which allowed them to market Havana Club Rum around the world. But since the US continues to impose an embargo on some products from Cuba, the Cuban Havana Club Rum isn’t sold in the US. And in a further twist, in August, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused Pernod trademark renewal for the name Havana Club in the US. Rum giant Bacardi had seized on the opportunity to register the name Havana Club in the US and is now selling a white rum in the US under the Havana Club name.

The Arechabala family, who owned the distillery where Havana Club was first made in 1935, moved to South Florida after Castro took over the country and then sold the recipe for their namesake Cuban rum to Bacardi. Last week I had an opportunity to try the new Bacardi distilled Havana Club rum and was very surprised at the marked vanilla flavor in the finish. I have tasted a lot of rums and have only found a distinct vanilla flavor in one other white rum. In the aging process sucrose in the oak wood used to make the barrels gives the spirit a slight vanilla flavor accompanied by a slight woody note. If the barrel has been charred, a smoky oak flavor is also generally present.

In Cuba’s Havana Club, which is claimed to be aged three years in oak barrels and then carbon filtered, I taste a very dry spirit with a slight citrus flavor which is devoid of the vanilla flavor found in Bacardi’s Havana Club. Over the years, I’ve also had the opportunity to taste a number of Havana Club rums distilled before Castro seized control of Cuba and they taste more like what Cuba is exporting today than the rum Bacardi now claims is made according to the original recipe.

Bacardi’s Havana Club bottle is markedly different from that used for their other rums and there is no comparison to the bottle or label used by the Cuban distillery. Bacardi’s sculptured bottle will stand out on the shelf and I doubt anyone will confuse this with the Havana Club for which Cuba is so well known around the world.

Whether or not America is going to be smitten by the new Havana Club is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain, the legal posturing is going to continue for a long time. And that can only be good for the lawyers.

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