Interview: Meimi Sanchez

Angel Brown caught up with Havana Club global brand ambassador Meimi Sanchez in Cuba at the Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix 2018.

How will the Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix 2018 theme Cuba Moderna change old perceptions of Cuba?

It’s not so much to change perceptions it’s more to showcase Cuba in its true light. When we speak to people about Cuba and what their image is of Cuba they always have the same answer, it’s old Cuban cars, cigars and Buena vista social club. This is all of course quite fitting but I think there is so much more to the city. What I wanted to do this year is showcase the layers of the city and really talk about what’s current because everything I have mentioned is a little bit dated. The current underground scene, the new music, art and cuisine, everything is happening now – I don’t know if people really know that much about it. It’s really to show people the exciting new things in Havana.

How have previous winners of the Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix developed their bartending journey with Havana Club?

Every time we have a new winner we work with them on passion projects of theirs, it’s very open. Whether they want to do guest shifts around the world, seminars at trade shows or create a new rum. It’s really helping them to take the next step in their journey or career. For example we worked with a bartender in London called Andy Loudon (Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix winner 2014) who was really keen to give back to Havana. La Guarida, a restaurant in Havana, has a bar at the very top of the building which we went and designed. We created the cocktail list and he trained all the staff. Andy can put on his CV that he created a bar in Havana. We’ve also done a lot of things with seminars like Bar Covent Berlin and Athens Bar Show, also developing new rums. It’s not a case of ‘Okay, now you’ve won you have to do this with us’. I think the best way to describe it is helping the winners with their passion projects.

This year we saw 41 bartenders experiencing the culture of Cuba; do you feel that hosting the competition every 2 years is enough traction for the pace of the bartending world?

Sometimes I look at other competitions and as well established and as good as they are it feels like they are a circle, constantly going on. With us, in order to get fresh new content and keep excitement within the trade I think it’s healthy to have the competition every two years.

How effective is indirect marketing around the Cuban culture and Havana as opposed to direct brand marketing?

The city has grown and so has the rum and I think it always has. If you look at Cuban rum in history it has always evolved and that’s around trends in the city so as you see new scenes I think it’s important for Havana Club to stay current, whether that is trying to make new blends or new things with rum that people don’t expect. We take quite a lot of pride in making sure that the rum goes up with the culture, it is well represented if you look at our experimental higher end of the portfolio like Tributo and Union, it’s pushing boundaries and it’s doing new things.

How important is it for the Havana Club brand to invest in projects like Havana Cultura?

For me it is really important, everything we are trying to do with the trade is investing in new talent, finding new people and growing the community and I think it’s the same in Cuba. We did a project before the Grand Prix with a company called Clandestina, they are all about upcycling and using parts/bits and pieces of Havana to make new things, projects like that are really important to us. It is just as important to support the city and the culture as it is anything else.