Cubabrews Cuba Beer Industry And Marketplace Information

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​​The Pre-Revolution Beer Industry

 Commercial beer production began in Cuba in the late 19th Century with the opening of the La Tropical brewery in Havana.  As the brand’s popularity grew, La Tropical developed a German-style beer garden, Jardines de la Tropical, alongside the brewery on the Almendares River in 1904.  Later, Stadium La Tropical was erected, and played host to major sporting events back in the day. La Tropical produced several types of beer which received recognition at exhibitions in North America and Europe. During the rise of La Tropical, La Polar brewery opened in 1911, also in Havana and also with its own beer gardens.  A third major brand, Hatuey- named after a Taino Indian chief, also rose to prominence.  The Hatuey brand was acquired by the Bacardi family and manufactured in multiple breweries on the island.

By the 1950s, fueled by domestic consumption and Cuba’s thriving tourism economy, times were good for these manufacturers.  Vacationers flocking to Cuba’s beaches and casinos frequented the beer gardens and drank the native cold brews alongside the famous rum drinks at the island’s  hotels and bars.  A denizen of such bars, Ernest Hemingway, who wrote The Old Man and the Sea at his Finca Vigia home outside Havana, featured Hatuey beer in that novel.  The decade leading up to the Cuban revolution was a golden era for the major brewers.

The Post-Revolution Scene

In 1960, the Cuban government seized and nationalized all breweries on the island as part of its systematic seizure of private industry.  The Cuban government continued to operate breweries with production levels remaining largely static and sub-optimal until the 1990s.  In 1997, the Cuban government (Coralsa) and Canada’s Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. formed Cervecería Bucanero S.A. as a joint venture to partner in the production of domestic beer and the licensing of Cuban beer brands worldwide.  The public-private joint venture model is one the Cuban government has operated with France’s Pernod Ricard to produce Havana Club rum.  In 2003, the Bucanero venture invested $100 million to upgrade its production operations and capacity in Holguin.  Bucanero brews Cuba’s major brands, Cristal, Bucanero, Mayabe and Cacique.  To find out more about these brands, read about Cuba’s Beers.  Despite the significant private investment in Cuba’s beer industry, production issues have persisted.  As recently as the hot summer of 2014, production was stifled by delays in the import of malted barley. 

What’s Next?

Since taking power following the illness of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, has taken small but significant steps to allow more Cubans to work independently of the state-run economy. Among the permitted categories of private employment are restaurant owners; and the country is now home to some brewpubs.  In January of 2015,  the United States’ Departments of Commerce and Treasury released new rules of its own making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and for U.S. businesses to expand trade opportunities.   The change in U.S. policy is driven by the hope that working with independent Cuban entrepreneurs will improve living standards and begin to foster economic independence from the Cuban government. 

For now, many questions remain unanswered about beer trade between Cuba and the United States:  Are there opportunities for craft beer entrepreneurship in Cuba? Will Cuban beer brands be permitted for sale in the United States?  Will American beer brands be permitted for sale in Cuba?  Will American investment in Cuban beer production be permitted?  Read our Brews News to keep current on emerging insights into these questions as our nations rebuild their economic ties.

The History of Cuba's Beer Industry