Havana Club – The Shining Star of Cuban Rum
Located where the northern Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean meet, the nation of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea. A fascinating country, with a rich history and vibrant culture, Cuba is home to an icon in the world of rum - Havana Club. With humble beginnings, the distillery of La Vizcaya was founded by José Arechabala in Cárdenas, Cuba in 1878 and formed the roots to what would become Havana Club decades later. Today, Havana Club is quite simply the biggest-selling Cuban rum brand in the world and embodies the spirit of a nation.
Cuba [Source: sabino.parente - stock.adobe.com]
The History of Havana Club Rum
Sugarcane was introduced to Cuba in the 16th century and was so perfectly suited to the nation's rich soils and climate that by the mid-1800's the country produced around one-third of the world's sugar. It was only a matter of time before rum production began on the island. By 1878 a Spanish industrialist by the name of José Arechabala founded the La Vizcaya distillery in the city of Cárdenas, using leftover molasses from the flourishing Cuban sugar industry to produce various spirits, including rum. As production expanded, the distillery was incorporated under José Arechabala S.A. in 1921, becoming one of the largest Cuban conglomerates within the sugar and alcoholic beverages industries at that time.
Following the end of Prohibition in the United States in 1933, a new opportunity was in sight and José Arechabala S.A. launched Havana Club rum just a few months later. Inspired by Cuba's capital city, La Habana, the brand was named and designed to appeal to the newly available American market - taking the English spelling as opposed to the Spanish (Havana rather than Habana). The brand proved to be a huge success in both Cuba and the U.S., remaining family-owned in the hands José Arechabala S.A. for the next two decades. However, in the late-1950s, political change in Cuba would force a shift in the history of Havana Club.
Following the Cuban revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro's government nationalised much of the island's sugar and rum trade, including the José Arechabala S.A. company. This resulted in the majority of the Arechabala family fleeing the country shortly thereafter, without compensation. The political shift resulted in the United States placing an embargo on Cuban exports, cutting off the market that Havana Club was designed to cater for. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe became a key market for Havana Club and by the mid-1970s, the trademark for the brand had fallen into the hands of the Cuban government. The Cuban government had recognised the importance of the rum industry and Havana Club was reborn in this era, bearing a new logo on each bottle described as;
Symbolising the sun that shines on the island and makes its rum so rich, the warmth of the Cuban people and the Giraldilla, the emblem of the city of Havana and it's free spirit.
Following the collapse of the U.S.S.R in 1991, Cuba was forced to search for new markets, eventually entering into a joint venture with French wine and spirits giant Pernod Ricard in 1993, providing the means to distribute the now-legendary rum to a truly global audience.
Havana Club Branding [Source: OceanProd - stock.adobe.com]
Today, Havana Club remains the star of Cuban rum with close to 50 million bottles sold worldwide each year, despite commercial importation and distribution in the U.S. remaining illegal. The involvement of Pernod Ricard has driven the brand to new heights, with a range of high-end, well-aged rums now produced alongside their iconic core range expressions - namely Havana Club 3, Havana Club Especial & Havana Club 7. Havana rum continues to be produced in Cuba, however no longer at the original home of La Vizcaya distillery, with production now moved to two distilleries: one to the east of Havana at Santa Cruz del Norte and the other at San José de las Lajas.
Crafting a Cuban Spirit
Labelled 'El Ron de Cuba', meaning simply 'The Rum of Cuba', Havana Club embodies the vibrant and energetic island nation. Upon the introduction of sugarcane to Cuba in the 16th Century, it became clear that the island's fertile soil, humid tropical climate, and year-round north easterly winds provided ideal conditions for growing sugarcane of the highest quality. Utilising this sugarcane to produce rum has resulted in a characteristically lighter, fresher rum in comparison to elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Traditional rum production in Cuba has several defining features; firstly, all Cuban rum begins life with the pressing of sugarcane to extract sugarcane juice, or gaurapo as it's known. The gaurapo is then processed down to molasses, the base for all Cuban rum, and is combined with water and cultured yeast for fermentation. The resulting liquid, known as vino de caña, is then distilled exclusively in copper-lined column stills - a process that is largely credited for creating the lighter characteristics of Cuban rum. All Cuban rum is crafted from a blend of two distinct distilled spirits that must undergo two distinct ageing processes. The first involves the arguardiente, a lower proof distillate that is aged for a minimum of two years in oak casks and provides the majority of the rum's final character. The second distillate is a higher proof 'Superfine Cane Spirit' that provides the bulk of the alcohol and is blended with the aged arguardiente for a second maturation period. Further maturation and blending often takes place and marks the last step in the creation of the famed Cuban spirit. This entire process, from cane to bottle, is overseen by Cuban Rum Masters, or Maestros del Ron Cubano as they are known.
At Havana Club the Maestro del Ron Cubano is an esteemed position that takes over a decade to acquire. Aspiring Maestros undergo an extensive 15 year training process under the supervision of a Senior Maestro del Ron Cubano, learning every step of the production and blending process. Each Havana Club rum is aged for a minimum of 3 years, with core range expressions up to 15 years, and limited edition releases often aged well beyond this. In 2022, UNESCO recognised Cuba’s Maestros del Ron Cubano's knowledge and expertise as World Intangible Heritage. The late creator of the famed Havana Club 7 Year Old and Premier Maestro del Ron Cubano, Don José Navarro, was known to say:
[Cuban Rum is] a cultural heritage, transmitted from Maestro to Maestro, from heart to heart, from Cuban to Cuban.
Don José Navarro, Premier Maestro del Ron Cubano
Havana Club 1519 Fundacion De La Habana [Source: Rum Auctioneer]
Havana Rum Collectibles
Havana Club rum is an international icon today, with its popularity crossing over into the collectible rum market in recent years. With a variety of limited edition bottlings, premium well-aged expressions, and brand partnerships with the likes of Skepta, Bolovo, Pigalle Paris, and PLACES+FACES, all playing a role in this rise.
Rum Auctioneer have had the privilege of bringing some of Havana Club's finest and most sought-after bottlings to auction, with particular releases reaching impressive hammer prices;
Havana Club 7 Year Old Bolovo
A rare expression of Havana Club's legendary 7 Year Old expression, the 'Bolovo' bottling reached a hammer price of £2,200 at Rum Auctioneer in 2022, the highest value Cuban rum ever sold on our platform. Limited edition bottlings of Havana Club 7 Year Old continue to appear at auction, each sporting a unique and artistic label - perfect for collectors.
Havana Club 1519 Fundacion De La Habana
Bottled to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana, just 500 individually numbered bottles were produced, with only 250 available for public sale. Presented in a bespoke wooden case and beautiful decanter inspired by the architecture of the city, the spirit contained is a unique blend that was crafted over a 20 year period from Havana's maturing stock.
Havana Club Maximo
A famous bottle from the famous brand, the Club Maximo release is a must for any Havana collector. The ultra-premium blend of white, golden and dark rum has been crafted from some of the company's finest and oldest stock. Each bottle is presented in a hand-blown crystal decanter created and numbered by Master Glassmaker Paul Miller. Just 1,000 bottles were produced.
Havana Club 7 Year Old Limited Edition Bottlings [Source: Rum Auctioneer]
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