Havana Club vs. Havana Club

The biggest Cuban bar fight: Inside the rum war between two beverage giants—who really owns the spirit of the island?

A Cuban battle is heating up that has nothing to do with the policies of President Trump; it has to do with the politics of rum.  

This week on 60 Minutes, Sharyn Alfonsi has the story of the two companies selling Havana Club rum, both claiming to be the liquor to drink if one wants to imbibe authentically Cuban.

Here's what's not in dispute: The Arechabala family started making Havana Club rum in Cuba in 1934. They sold it in the U.S. market until the 1959 revolution, when the Cuban government seized distilleries. The Arechabala family lost their business and went into exile.

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Havana Club vs. Havana Club

CBS News

The Bacardi family, another top rum maker in pre-revolution Cuba, also lost their business. But because they had distilleries outside the island, Bacardi was able to stay in business. The Arechabala family sold their rum recipe, rights and trademark to their old rival, Bacardi.

But how can Bacardi—which distills its rum in Puerto Rico—make Cuban rum anywhere except Cuba?

"There are two different things that we're talking about," says David Cid, Bacardi's global master of cane spirits. "One is point of origin, where it's being exported from, where's it being cultivated. And the other is the style, the technique, the process taken to make that product."

Cid likens it to eating at an Italian restaurant in New York. Did the pasta come from Italy? Did the tomato sauce come from Italy? "Maybe not," he says, "but it's still Italian cuisine, right?"

Meanwhile in Havana, the Cuban government and the French beverage giant Pernod Ricard formed a partnership in 1993 to produce Havana Club rum. Today they sell 50 million bottles a year, 11 million of them in Cuba.

The liquor is as ubiquitous in Havana as the cigars it pairs well with.

"When we sell a bottle of Havana Club in France, in England, or in Chile, we not only sell the liquid, we sell the soul of the country," says Jérôme Cottin-Bizonne, the managing director of Havana Club International. "We sell the values of the country. Havana Club is really the symbol that helps them reach the rest of the world."

The video above was originally published on January 1, 2017