CLASS speaks to Alfredo Guerra and Liam Holyoak-Rackal, Global Brand Ambassadors, Havana Club.

Can you tell us about your roles as Havana Club’s Global Brand Ambassadors?

Liam Holyoak-Rackal (pictured right): “I’ve worked for Havana Club for four years now. I was the UK cultural ambassador for three of those and then recently made the jump to global. Alongside Alfredo, I cover everything from advocacy to culture, focusing a lot on collaborations, brand partnerships and our roots within creative communities; music, fashion, and of course bartending and hospitality.”

Alfredo Guerra (pictured left): “As a Cuban, I feel honoured and proud to represent the most prestigious and award-winning rum from Cuba. I fell in love with the brand in 2011 while I was doing my internship at the Havana Club Rum Museum, so it’s been quite the journey! In 2016, I was appointed global ambassador and it’s my responsibility to educate rum enthusiasts around the world on the portfolio – how Havana Club is created, and which rums are better for cocktails or neat serves – as well as the brand’s rich history and heritage.

“Liam and I also support local ambassadors, ensuring they have the necessary tools to continue sharing the values of El Ron de Cuba.”

Havana Club has listened to the trade and re-entered the comp circuit. Please give us the elevator pitch for the all-new Havana Club Cocktail Maestros

Liam Holyoak-Rackal: “Bartenders have always been at the heart of Havana Club’s story, so we wanted to develop a fresh new concept to support and champion them – but with a real purpose.

“We asked bartenders exactly what gets them excited about the competition circuit and it was clear they’re after more than cocktail techniques. Instead, they’re hungry for an initiative that puts the spirit of teamwork first, grows their network and educates them to build their skills beyond the bar.”

Alfredo Guerra: “And it’s safe to say The Havana Club Cocktail Maestros ticks all those boxes and sets the stage for a new era in the cocktail world.  This competition isn’t just about mixing drinks, it’s rooted in a team mindset, brand education and cultural expertise with collaborative team-building challenges. Plus, the €10,000 winning prize will enable the lucky winners to put their new-found skills to good use and invest in their future projects.”

Havana Club has always been a brand that talks about more than rum. How are you bringing Cuban culture to the competition?

Alfredo Guerra: “You’re totally right, there’s so much more to Havana Club. We’re the original, bestselling Cuban rum and we take pride in bringing the spirit of Cuba to bars around the globe as teams of two bartenders embark on a journey into Cuban energy and culture.

“This is brought to life in the competition through the exclusive Maestro Sessions, featuring four educational films presented by industry voices, to inspire team entries. I’m presenting the ‘Liquid’ session alongside the esteemed Maestro del Ron Cubano, Asbel Morales, where we’ll educate bartenders on the history, culture, creation and unique flavours of Havana Club.”

Liam Holyoak-Rackal: “But we couldn’t stop there. Successful finalists will experience the Cuban way of life first hand with a VIP trip to Havana for the grand finale in April 2024. They will be immersed into the very best the island has to offer with cultural and team bonding activities, and an exclusive tour of the state-of-the-art San José Distillery. Plus, they’ll also dine in authentic restaurants, visit the most exciting bars in town, explore the unmissable landmarks of Cuba – and most importantly, get to know the locals.”

What will bartenders learn and how will they develop their skills by entering the Havana Club Cocktail Maestros competition?

Liam Holyoak-Rackal: “As Alfredo mentioned, the Maestro Sessions equip bartenders with all sorts of skills and I’m excited to head up the ‘Flavour’ session with inspiring chef, Naz Ramadan. She’ll explain her approach to flavour and ingredients with a virtual cooking demonstration and explore the intricate balance of food and drink, paired with our flagship, Havana Club Añejo 7 Años.

Alfredo Guerra: “On top of this, ‘Hustle’, will see Emillio Di Salvo and Kelia Urzais, from London’s Satan’s Whiskers, sharing values behind their success as an iconic bar duo, while esteemed drinks’ photographer, Lateef Okunnu, will host ‘Expression’, teaching candidates to capture content of their final cocktail creation. These sessions will provide bar teams with the tools, education and support they need to reign supreme.”  

The Havana Club Grand Prix was one of the grand old cocktail comps, but was very cocktail focused. How are you diversifying the comp in its new incarnation?

Alfredo Guerra: “We’re proud of the Havana Club Grand Prix which raised the bar in the international mixology game. But this year, we wanted to switch things up by launching our first ever competition focused on teamwork. Not only does this create an understanding between pairs, but it also enables them to spark discussion and strengthen their unique skills, collaborating to bring different concepts to the table.

“The entry round – Liquid Harmony – will challenge pairs to create a harmonious Havana Club cocktail that represents their joint values. Using their new photography skills, the duos will capture an image of their cocktail creation and another of their team, to showcase their vibe. With the industry rapidly evolving, the challenge and education programme are designed to teach bartenders how to hustle and make their venues a success – putting collaboration first.”

Liam Holyoak-Rackal: “Not only will the global winners receive the prize money, a once-in-lifetime trip to Cuba and a bottle of Máximo Extra Añejo but will also be a part of the future Havana Club Cocktail Maestros competition, as they continue their journey with our brand.”

Can you tell us about the dates and details for the inaugural 2023-2024 comp?

Liam Holyoak-Rackal: “Entries open for the first challenge, ‘Liquid Harmony’, on November 20th until January 15th, 2024. The Maestro sessions will be available digitally throughout the entry period, to give bartenders those all-important skills.

The judging panel will shortlist the most successful entries to compete in the National Finals which will be judged within leading bars in Europe, Brazil and Cuba for the second heat between late January and early February next year.”

Alfredo Guerra concludes: “And there’s more! Given the high number of entries we anticipate from European markets, there will be an exciting additional heat in London on March 4th, before the top five teams in Europe are whisked off to Cuba to join the remaining global finalists for the grand finale in and around Havana for four days from April 15th. This is a jam-packed competition with exciting challenges, travel experiences and the chance to meet and connect with other skilled bartenders from across the globe.

“So, if you’re a talented bartending duo that has what it takes to be crowned the first ever Havana Club Cocktail Maestros, head to the Havana Club website and place your entries by January 15th.”