Cocktail consultant, Liquid Productions
Co-owner, Pacific Standard
Co-owner, Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s
This version of the classic rum Havana Club has been produced in Puerto Rico under the Bacardi spirit portfolio since 1994. It is said to be based on the original 1934 recipe, which was sold to Bacardi by the Arechabala family. The Arechabalas founded the original Havana Club in Cuba, and were forced to part with the name and distillery when Fidel Castro nationalized the Cuban rum industry in 1959.
Since 1993, Pernod Ricard has produced its own version of Havana Club with the Cuban government, and decades of trademark-related legal battles have ensued, with both Bacardi and Pernod Ricard laying claim to the Havana Club name. Today, Bacardi’s version of Havana Club is the only one available in the United States, while Pernod Ricard distributes its product elsewhere.
While its history is complicated, this affordable bottling is a pleasant, middle-of-the-road aged rum, according to our reviewers. They noted its excellent value and mixability in drinks like the Daiquiri and Piña Colada, but found that it lacks the complexity and character to be best enjoyed neat.
Classification: Aged rum
Producer: Havana Club USA, Cataño, Puerto Rico
Expression: Añejo Clásico Rum
Cask: American white oak
Still Type: Column still
Aged: At least three months
Great value for price
Accessible and easy to drink
Excels in mixed drinks like the Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, and Piña Colada
Generic rum flavors and thin mouthfeel are less than ideal for solo sipping
Finish may strike some as slightly hot and bitter
Nose: Vanilla, demerara sugar, pineapple, black tea, molasses, alcohol, caramel, citrus, cola bean, vegetal and grassy notes
Palate: Vanilla, nutmeg, chai, cola, orange, dark chocolate, hint of molasses
Finish: Short-medium; slightly hot and bitter
Similar bottles: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Bacardi Reserva Ocho, Brugal Añejo, Flor de Caña 4 Year, Plantation Original Dark, Ron del Barrilito 2 Star, Ron Zacapa No. 23, Rhum Barbancourt Three Stars
Suggested uses: On the rocks; cocktails like the Cuba Libre, Piña Colada, Daiquiri, and Rum Punch
Our reviewers all emphasize the great value of this aged rum. Each noted Havana Club’s suitability for mixed drinks, but they find it lacks the character and complexity to be an ideal neat pour.
“It is a decent rum at this price point,” says Julie Reiner. However, she found the mouthfeel on the palate to be thin, and also found the finish to be slightly hot. “The vanilla is overpowering, and at the low proof, it just is not a very interesting rum,” she says.
Jacques Bezuidenhout says that it “could have [a] more balanced aged flavor.”
Bezuidenhout suggests serving this expression on the rocks or in cocktails, while Reiner and Jeffrey Morgenthaler say it fares best as a mixing rum.
“I think this simple, inexpensive butter-bomb is best served in a Daiquiri or Piña Colada, where a generic rum-flavored rum can both excel at the job and hide under other flavors,” says Morgenthaler. “This is one of the better aged rums to have on hand for mixing [for its price].”
Reiner agrees. “It’s great for a rum lover looking to mix it with other rums in a punch or cocktail with additional liqueurs and juices,” she says.
Morgenthaler also notes that, for U.S. consumers, it remains a suitable option for those interested in the Havana Club legacy. “I see this as appealing to Americans who can’t legally source Cuban rums and want something that honestly doesn’t drink too dissimilar to the [Cuba-produced version],” he says.
While the Havana Club recipe is proprietary, Bacardi says it is the same one with which the Arechabala family launched Havana Club in 1934. The producer’s Añejo Clásico expression is double-distilled in a column still at the Bacardi Distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico, then blended for a minimum of one year and up to three years. The resulting liquid is aged for at least three months in American white oak casks.
In 1878, José Arechabala immigrated to Cuba from Spain and opened a small distillery and sugar refinery in the port town of Cardenas. In 1934, the Arechabala family, by then one of the country’s foremost rum producers, launched Havana Club rum. However, in 1959, Fidel Castro came to power and nationalized the country’s rum industry, forcing the Arechablas to stop selling their product and removing the family name from any mention of brand history. The communist government in Cuba began producing Havana Club rum under an agency called Cubaexport.
Meanwhile, Ramón Arechabala, who then worked as a sales manager for the family company, continued to oversee the distillery. In 1963 he was jailed and given the option to join the revolution, stay in prison, or leave the country. Ramón fled to Miami with his fiancée, Amparo Alvaré, and children. He took on jobs as a mechanic and auto salesman but dreamed of reclaiming the Havana Club name.
In 1973, while the family lawyer, Javier Arechabla, was imprisoned in Cuba, the family’s United States trademark for Havana Club lapsed. In 1993, spirits company Pernod Ricard formed a joint venture with the Cuban government to form Havana Club International and began distributing Havana Club rum worldwide (with the exception of the United States, where the trade embargo remained). Ramón wrote the company’s lawyer a letter, and although Pernod Ricard tried to buy the worldwide rights for the Havana Club name from the Arechabalas, the family refused the offer. In 1994, after many meetings and a handshake deal, Ramón gave the family recipe to Bacardi.
The Arechabalas officially sold the recipe to Bacardi in 1997. That same year, the Pernod-Cuban venture sued Bacardi in a New York federal court for trademark infringement and lost. However, a longstanding legal battle between the two companies continues today, with both Bacardi and Pernod Ricard laying claim to the Havana Club name. The Pernod Ricard product remains unavailable in the U.S.
–Written and edited by Audrey Morgan
Although it’s often associated with Puerto Rico, Bacardi wasn’t always produced on the island. The company originated in Cuba, and back in the 1930s, the Arechabalas’ Havana Club rum was a competitor. But by the early 1960s, both companies had left Cuba in the wake of Fidel Castro’s nationalization of the country’s rum industry. In light of the American trade embargo against Cuba, Bacardi licensed the name for use in the United States, and also made a deal with the Arechabalas to position itself as the true, legitimate Havana Club.
The Bottom Line
Bacardi’s Havana Club offering is an approachable and accessible rum that presents good value for the price. It’s best suited to mixed drinks, though those seeking deeper complexity in a sipping rum may wish to look elsewhere.