Liam Holyoak – Rackal, UK Brand & Cultural Ambassador, Havana Club
Q: Where do you work?
A: Our rum is of course made in Cuba, however I am based in the UK and I’m lucky enough to say my ‘workplace’ differs from day to day – whether it’s on a digital platform, at the office or at a venue, I go wherever rum is needed!
Q: How long have you worked there and how did you start?
A: I’ve worked at Havana Club for just under a year now. I began working for Pernod Ricard UK in November 2019 after a seven-year career in bars and pubs, whilst also being heavily involved in the music industry ever since I could string a sentence together!
Q: Describe the production process.
A: So out of our Cuban sugarcane – the best in the world – we get molasses, which we then ferment and distil in column stills to up to around 76%. This allows the spirit’s character to become lighter, drier but also retains those fruity, complex flavours from our amazing raw ingredients. The spirit that comes out of the still we call ‘aguardiente’, or fire water. But it doesn’t stop there. We’re so set on celebrating the quality of this sugarcane, rather than chucking it in oak to age and then blend or bottle, this spirit needs care, time to rest and settle before we go into this process. This is why we use ‘dead’ barrels (up to 100 years old) to rest this aguardiente for a minimum of two years. The wood of the barrel imparts no flavour but allows the spirit to rest, mellow and take the edge off. After two years we then reawaken the aguardiente, filter through active charcoal to further remove impurities, and then our liquid goes into active oak for the first time. It’s at this point we create our ‘bases’. These bases are then treated and conditioned differently (temperature, place in warehouse, pressure on the barrel, etc.) – they are blended, re-aged, and so on and so forth until we get specific flavour profiles from each base that we then blend again to make up our rums. Havana Club is essentially a blend of blends. There is a whole lot of science behind this process and it’s not by chance we end up with such a beautiful end product. This is down to our amazing Maestro Roneros.
Q: What’s a typical day like?
A: I’m mainly in London but I travel around the UK, working with and training bartenders, creating cocktail menus, and collaborating with grassroots organisations and creatives to support street culture and celebrate Havana Club’s position within it.
Q: Please provide brief tasting notes for your products.
A: Our brand new Havana Club Cuban Spiced is really something special. It blends Cuban rum with exotic fruit and tropical spices, whose stories are synonymous with the island’s culture and cuisine. Notes of juicy ripe guava, fresh pineapple and toasted green coconut are perfectly balanced with aromatic, warming spices.
Q: What would you say sets your product apart?
A: Havana Club is a beautifully unique and versatile rum that really has a story like no other. The intricacies in production, the deep-rooted culture, and the quality in the liquid – it really is Cuba in a bottle and can be enjoyed in so many ways, it was honestly my favourite brand way before I was working at Pernod Ricard UK! Whether it’s in your most delicate cocktails or in the simplest of serves, the most important component is of course the rum, and Havana Club is the rum you want to be using.
Q: What one fact should bartenders know about your brand?
A: Havana Club rum is authentically Cuban. From cane to copa.
Q: What’s your favourite part of the job?
A: It has to be the fact that my passion has become my profession and I’ve been able to mix two things in my life that make me happy: great drinks and music. I’m able to express my creative side through traditional brand ambassadorship whilst celebrating and supporting others through the cultural collaborations and work Havana Club does with the creative industry.
Q: What’s your favourite way to drink your brand?
A: I drink Havana Club in (almost) it’s most simple form. In the summer, you can catch me with a Havana Club Cuban Spiced & soda with a slice of grapefruit. In the colder months – which is most of the year in the UK – I’m drinking Havana Club 7 & ginger beer. Easy done.
Q: What’s your career highlight so far?
A: Being involved in the launch of Cuban Spiced has been a big highlight for me! It’s a UK exclusive, so I’ve been heavily involved in developing serves specifically tailored for UK consumer palates.
Q: Who do you admire in the industry and why?
A: In the short time I’ve been with the brand, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing and talented people. As cliché as it may sound, I think it’s only fair to shout out the entire industry over the past year or so. No one saw a global pandemic coming, and it’s been truly inspiring to see the work rate, adaptability and solidarity of everyone in hospitality coming together to face what’s been possibly the most difficult time in our industry’s history.
Q: How do you relax outside of work?
A: Apart from a couple of Cuban Spiced & Cokes? I love music. I play, produce and also run a record label alongside this, so most of my free time is spent in the studio!
Q: If you could invite anyone for a drink who would you ask, where would you go and what would you drink?
A: Growing up, I was always obsessed with the UK grime scene, and I still am to this day. Get me Skepta, JME and Kano in a room, and a bottle of Havana Club Cuban Spiced. Say no more. Oh, in Havana, of course…