SAN JOSÉ DE LAS LAJAS. – Located approximately 52 kilometers from Havana, in the province of Mayabeque, is one of the distilleries producing the most emblematic and much loved Cuban rums in the world of premium spirits: Havana Club. This drink has transcended the borders of this Caribbean nation, mainly due to the natural aging process in white oak barrels without the use of essences or artifice; the commitment and knowledge of Cuban maestros roneros (master rum-makers), who keep this over hundred-year-old tradition alive.
The origins of the company promoting this product of excellence, Havana Club International S.A., date back to 1993, when, on November 22, the Cuba Ron state enterprise and the French company, Pernod Ricard, came together in the presence of the leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro.
The subsequent conquest of the international market was not only the result of a successful economic strategy, but also the incorporation of the island’s culture, evidenced by the image of La Giraldilla as an essential element of the brand’s identity.
By the end of 2013, Havana Club International was already a diversified company, which in addition to its successful export mission, distributes the rum bearing its name as well as other Pernod Ricard products nationwide, with sales volumes already reaching 4 million 9-liter cases.
By January 2015, the company plans to launch a new product on the Chinese market, called “Union”, the first batch of 700 bottles has already been dispatched. With just 514 employees, Havana Club International succeeds in satisfying the most demanding requirements of the market, through a perfect combination of technology and tradition.
A NEW HOME FOR THE SAME RUM AS ALWAYS
Under the fundamental principle of maintaining the Cuban rum-making tradition, the San José distillery was inaugurated on January 9, 2007. The facility has a distillery, a plant for filling and emptying barrels, six rum aging warehouses, a manufacturing plant and two bottling lines: one standard and one for ultra premium products. At present, this rum factory is the most modern and the safest of Pernod Ricard 80 plants.
André Leymat, industrial director of Havana Club International S.A., has no hesitations in stating as such. His presence at the front of the sole producer of the world famous Havana Club dark rum line is motivated by purely professional reasons: “After 11 years living here with my family, I feel a little more Cuban than French.
I came over to build the rum factory and ensure a marriage of technology and Cuban knowhow, respecting all international standards of safety and security, and putting technology at the service of this know-how and not the reverse.” “In terms of health and safety, services and systems,” Leymat stated, “we have achieved a five-star level.”
“We are now listening more to what consumers want,” he said, adding, “The way in which rum is perceived can change. There is a trend for lighter rums and we work to adapt without modifying our know-how.”
Raicel García Moré, shift supervisor at the bottling plant, totally identifies with the institution after just a year working there.
“When I joined the factory what motivated me was the organization and the pace of work,” the 27-year-old explained, “I have been here a year and that remains the case, with the intention to continue improving so that workers feel better every day.”
In the next two years, an investment plan to expand the factory facilities with the construction of new warehouses is planned, which will allow for an increase in productive capacity, guaranteed deliveries to customers and the development of new products. According to Ernesto Castrezana Torres, director of operations, the important thing is that, although the mode of controlling the process is being modernized, the way in which Cuban rum is essentially the same.
“The way in which the rum was made 150 years ago, beginning in Santiago de Cuba, is the same as today. Obviously there is now a superior level of automation and equipment,” he explained. “The tradition has been respected, because that is our greatest strength, and what protects us from those rums produced elsewhere in the world that claim to be Cuban rum. That’s why we say that our factory in San José is the new home of the same rum as always.”
CUBAN MASTER RUM-MAKERS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
For the maestro ronero Manuel Calderón Echevarría, a university trained food processing engineer, and area manager for manufacturing and bottling at the factory, the role of these experts is to preserve the quality and history of the rums.
They immerse themselves in maintaining their authenticity with base aguardiantes designed for each brand, always obedient to traditions and culture. “Cuba has no training school for these specialists.
We created a group with the founding of the Cuba Ron company, in order to rescue a historic tradition of over 100 years.
Our purpose was to insert ourselves into the market with a generic product to consolidate our position in areas conquered by whiskeys, brandies and wines.”
In the 90s, the management of Cuba Ron brought together several connoisseurs linked to the Food Processing Ministry to create a movement of rum tasters.
“From the start, exchanging information has been our premise, because we transmit knowledge constantly. There is no rivalry or competition, and the main goal is to make further progress.
We maintain continuity in a youth group that we have incorporated into our meetings and events, but none have been appointed yet. They are aspiring candidates and include women,” Calderón explained.
Among the main requirements for prospective candidates is the command of flavors, aromas and colors. Certain tests are carried out and, according to the responses of individuals, the rums are classified as sweet, bitter or sour, with this sense of taste shaped over time. The group should be able to form mixtures and generic liquors.
At the Food Processing Ministry and the Azcuba company, there have been measuring standards for many years, not only to establish the rules regarding master rum-makers, but also to ensure a balance in the products.
No drink, not beer nor wine, hits the market without a sensory evaluation commission ruling on its authenticity. Among rum masters, exchanges take precedence - they are not only engaged in tasting the products, but additionally contribute their knowledge to the production process, from their different professions and occupations.
“There are chemical engineers, graduates in pharmacy, chemists, doctors of science, post graduates, agronomists, which provides heterogeneity in the group.
We need to know about woods for the barrels, plants and alcohols to suggest new products through mixtures, we attend to activities in the production process and develop different skills.” “Our rums are based on distillation and aging in wooden barrels that processed whiskey, stored at an ambient temperature and humidity, which creates a beverage which is unique in the world.”