We had a few questions for Alfredo and Pavel who were in Nairobi promoting Havana Club Rum. We asked about Cuba, the rum and the spirit of Cuba itself
Let’s start at the beginning, kindly describe yourselves.
Alfredo Guerra: My name is Alfredo Guerra, the Global Brand Ambassador for Havana club for almost a year now. Prior to this, I worked for 6 years in a distillery called the Havana Club Rum Museum. It’s like an access restricted area where people can see the culture, history and process that goes into the production of the Rum. The place gave me my induction into the world of spirits, cocktails, rums and cigars. Once I graduated from the University of Havana with a degree in Foreign Languages, I felt like I found my dream job.
Pavel Fernandes: My name is Pavel Fernandez, the Vice President of the Bartenders Association in Havana, or Association de Cantineros de Cuba in Spanish. I have worked as a Cantinero, or bartender for more than 23 years in the club.
What does the Bartenders Association do for the bartenders in Havana?
Fernandes: We issue information to over 1000 Bartenders in Cuba, 400 of whom are in Havana. All members of the Bartenders Association in Havana are members of the International Bartenders Association (IBA).
The museum gave me my induction into the world of spirits, cocktails, rums and cigars.
As a Rum specialist in the museum, what was your role, especially to the guests who visited the museum?
Alfredo: I worked as a guide in the museum, communicating the history, the production process and the characteristics of rums and Cigars.
Not a Maestro then?
Alfredo: No, that would be incorrect because there are only 8 in Cuba. And to become a Rum Master, you have to first study chemistry, or engineering chemistry, then work for 20 years at the distillery and know every step of the rum production process. You can’t just wake up one day and become a Rum Master. (Laughs)
Are you not involved in the production process?
Alfredo: No I’m not. I like learning from them, they are very well respected in Cuba. I have spoken with the Maestros many times and asked them questions about the production process.
Havana Club is often described as the spirit of Cuba, how would you describe Cuba?
Alfredo: The Havana Club is a brand that is widely sold and is the most commercialized Rum in Cuba. For instance, a lot of people drink Rum in bars that have the symbol of Havana Club, or even people that work in parking, or the handcraft markets. Nobody asks these people to put on clothing with the symbol of Havana Club, they do it because they feel Havana represents the culture of Rum, which represents our soul, our way of life in Cuba.
Fernandes, being a member of the cigar association, would you say that it is the same when it comes to cigars? Do they also represent the spirit of Cuba?
Fernandes: Yes, for example, Habanos, which are cigars. To the rest of the world it is tobacco, but in Cuba it is Habanos. I always say it’s the best in the world, Habanos, and Havana.
Nobody asks these people to put on clothing with the symbol of Havana Club, they do it because they feel Havana represents the culture of Rum, which represents our soul, our way of life in Cuba.
Given that you are one of the Global Ambassadors, are there countries you go to and people assume you represent Bacardi’s Havana Club?
Alfredo: No! I have never been in that situation because the Havana Club from Bacardi is only commercialized in some States in the United States. Worldwide the Havana Club that people know is the one from Cuba. There were a lot of Americans that came to the rum museum when Obama restored relations with Cuba. They would ask why they should buy the Havana Club here (Cuba) if it can be found in the United States. They did not know they were two different products. The other one is not produced in Cuba, it’s produced in Puerto Rico.
So what would you say is the biggest difference between the two rums?
Alfredo: I think the most important difference in the rums is the quality. To be called a Cuban brand, it has to be produced in Cuba, using 100% ingredients from Cuba.
Africa is usually described as a whiskey continent. How is Havana Club doing in Nairobi in your opinion?
Alfredo: Part of the reason we are touring Africa, specifically, Ghana and Kenya, is because we have an international competition called International Rum Prix/Havana Rum Prix, which takes place every two years. The most recent one was in May 2018, and among the 40 participants, in 3rd place was an African bartender from Ghana. We saw a lot of potential, and it’s true that people prefer whiskey or even Gin, but many are interested in the category of Rum. We try not only to communicate Havana Club as a brand, but as a whole culture, the music, the Cuban spirit, and not just the Rum. So, I think people like it because Cuba has been famous for Salsa, for the cigars, and for the rum. I think there is a lot of potential in the master classes being done here.
We try not only to communicate Havana Club as a brand, but as a whole culture, the music, the Cuban spirit, and not just the Rum.
Fernandes: Yes, I agree. Not only in Ghana, but the bartenders here (Nairobi) are very interested in our rum, and the Rum culture.
When did your courtship with Rum begin? Did you just stumble on Havana Club, or did you hook up with other rums before you fell for Havana?
Alfredo: I went from the University to the Havana Club Rum Museum.
So you never cheated on Havana Club?
Alfredo: (Laughs) No! I come from another City, not Havana and there are other local brands in my province, but I think in every province in Cuba, Havana club is the most popular. I mean everybody in Cuba even those not working in the industry know a little bit about it. In high school, we would sneak out to drink rum with cola, or even rum mead. As a child, my father had a sugarcane plantation so I knew from childhood about the raw materials, and about the rum.
Kenya and Cuba have a lot in common, because the people have pretty much the same spirit.
Fernandes: I work in the bar with different brands but good quality is good quality, and the Havana brand is of good quality.
You guys must travel a lot?
Alfredo: Yes, Actually the tour began on 20th July, and Nairobi is the last stop. We have been to Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Ghana and now here.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city?
Both: Know the town! After we get to the hotel we go to the bar and try to find Havana Club in that bar. Then look at the cocktail menu.
How would you describe Nairobi now that you have been here?
Alfredo: It’s our first time here and I think it’s a City like no other. I think it has a blend of cultures. Kenya and Cuba have a lot in common because the people have pretty much the same spirit. The food, for example, is similar to what we have in Cuba.
The waiter suggested we have a banana, because they came with the Cuban doctors
What is the memorable dish that you have eaten here that reminded you of Cuba?
Both: Yesterday, we went to the Brazilian Restaurant, Fogo Gaucho, and the waiter suggested we have a banana because they came with the Cuban doctors. (Laughs)
They were excellent. All the dishes are actually quite similar; the fried bananas, the beans, the rice, the lamb, the pork. The only difference is the spices. In Cuba, we don’t eat spices.
For Kenyans reading this, what are the three must-sees in Cuba?
Both: Havana is a very interesting city. Havana is one of the new 7 wonders cities. For places to visit, I would recommend the Habanos Cigar factory and the Museo del Ron Havana Club which are the two most famous spots. We would also recommend walking on the streets of Havana. Cuba is not dangerous. You can walk anywhere, anytime. We have beautiful beaches to the East and you should definitely visit Viñales Valley.
What are the best bars?
Both: (Laughing out Loud) There are two bars you need to visit, El Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio. The rum museum, Museo del Ron Havana Club, has a bar called the Havana club but it’s also good to visit the new private bars that you can find like O’Reilly, Zigi Bar, El Cocinero.