Coming soon to U.S.: Cuba Libre, with real Cuban rum
BY JENNIFER KAY ASSOCIATED PRESS
12/26/2014 2:26 PM 12/26/2014 10:19 PM
U.S. rum aficionados are abuzz over the possibility of mixing a Cuba
Libre with authentic Cuban rum, now that they will be able to bring home
liquor distilled in the communist nation.
Relaxed limits on what licensed U.S. travelers can bring home mean that
Americans will be able to enjoy small quantities of the liquor at home.
But, with the embargo still in place, the rum won't be flooding bars or
And it's unclear what the news means for industry titan Bacardi, which
was driven from its Cuba headquarters by the 1959 Castro revolution. In
the past, Bacardi has left the door open for a return to its homeland.
But company representatives wouldn't give details when asked recently,
if any, plans it has if the more than 50-year-old embargo on Cuban goods
ends, now that President Barack Obama is working to normalize relations
with the country.
"We hope for meaningful improvements in the lives of the Cuban people
and will follow any changes with great interest," the company said in a
statement. Bacardi said it's waiting to see what effects thawing
U.S.-Cuba relations may have.
In 1997, Bacardi bought the legal rights to the recipe and name of
Havana Club, a popular rum created in 1935 by a Cuban family who
eventually fled the Castro revolution. Bacardi used the recipe and name
for a rum it distilled in Puerto Rico.
But the name would become tangled in a long-running U.S. trademark fight
with French wine and spirits maker Pernod Ricard.
Pernod Ricard, in partnership with state-owned Cubaexport, already had
been selling Havana Club rum, distilled in Cuba, in other countries.
Nearly 20 years of legal arguments followed. Ultimately, a court ruled
that Bacardi would be allowed to continue selling its Havana Club in the
U.S. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that decision,
giving Bacardi's Havana Club rum its final green light for American sales.
To differentiate its rum – and anticipating an eventual lifting of the
embargo – Pernod Ricard then announced it had registered the brand name
Havanista in the U.S. to someday sell Cuban-distilled rum on American soil.
Today, Bacardi's Havana Club, still distilled in Puerto Rico, is an
exclusive, hard-to-find bottle, sold in limited quantities in Florida,
Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan and Colorado.
Bacardi, with global headquarters in Bermuda, sells more than 18 million
cases of rum worldwide each year. The trickle of bottles that will soon
come home in travelers' luggage won't offer much competition. Still, the
new policy is an encouraging sign for Cuban distillers, said Robert A.
Burr, founder of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival.
"It's not a green light yet, but it's a light at the end of the tunnel,
the beginning of the end of this invisibility" in the U.S. marketplace,
Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be able to bring home merchandise
worth up to $400, of which $100 can be spent on alcohol and tobacco
products combined. Like the rest of the eased trade, travel and currency
restrictions announced Wednesday, the rum rules will take effect when
official revise and publish the regulations – perhaps weeks away.
And U.S. law still prohibits Americans from circumventing the limits by
buying rum – or cigars or other liquor – in other countries and bringing
Rum is a growing market in the United States. Imports have grown to
$98.4 million in 2013 from $72.5 million in 2009, according to the
Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Sales increased slightly
last year to 25.6 million cases, with flavored and spiced rums
accounting for more than half of those sold.
Aside from their allure as forbidden fruit, Cuban rums are known for
their lighter color and more delicate expression than the dark, heavy
rums produced elsewhere in the Caribbean, Burr said.
Rum is a popular export – it seems every Caribbean island and Central
and South American country has its own – and consumers often remain
loyal to brands even when far from home.
"In Miami, the rum market is partially ethnic-based, with Colombians
drinking Colombian rum and Venezuelans drinking Venezuelan rum," Burr
said. "Well, there are a lot of Cubans here, aren't there? Some may say
that if they drink Cuban rum, they're just giving money to Castro, but I
think some will say, 'Finally, we can enjoy the rums of Cuba.' "
In 2012, Bacardi Ltd. board chairman Facundo Bacardi,
great-great-grandson of the company's founder, told Cigar Aficionado
that "offering the world a Cuban-sourced Bacardi rum – it will happen."
"A lot of companies will look at Cuba as a commercial opportunity, but
we don't necessarily look at it that way," he said. "We see it from the
perspective of Cuban exiles returning home."
Source: Coming soon to U.S.: Cuba Libre, with real Cuban rum | The Miami
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