Photo: Geir Dokken
Photo: Geir Dokken


A taste of Cuba in the air

Passengers traveling in SAS Business on international routes can now experience a taste of Cuba from the comfort of their seats. But the new Cuban rum has been on quite a journey before arriving on SAS’s aircraft.

Black Tears by Vigia is a new spirit made from the finest Vigia original Cuban spiced rum. The drink is distributed by The Island Rum Company, based in Norway, and is now available to travelers in SAS Business on SAS’s intercontinental routes.  

The story behind Black Tears is a long and winding road and many bridges have been crossed on the journey from Cuba to Norway. Tore Villard, CEO of Arctic Beverage Group, has been on this journey from the start and brought this Cuban collaboration to life along with partner Hans Christian Holst.

“Cuba is a fantastic country in many ways, but building a business partnership there is a process that requires quite a bit of patience”, Villard explains. “Progress is slow, there are many turns and decisionmaking is cumbersome.”

Photo: Geir Dokken

Villard and the rest of the Arctic Beverage Group team founded The Island Rum Company in 2012 with the principal aim of kick-starting the production of a new Cuban rum. 

“We had to ask ourselves straight up, ‘so how do we do this?’ No one in the team had done any business in Cuba previously and we didn’t have a clue how it would turn out.” 

About Black Tears and SAS

Black Tears rum is now being served in SAS Business on all flights to the US and Asia. It made its SAS debut on the first SAS flight from Oslo to Miami. Peter Lawrance, specialist in food and bever­ages at SAS, says, “I believe that Black Tears rum is the perfect complement to our standard serving in SAS Business and it’s really exciting that we will be able to give our passengers a new experience.”

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Arctic Beverage had good connections in the US, but given the trade situation between America and Cuba, it was difficult for the team to make use of their American beverage industry partners. They were therefore in need of local expertise. Enter Enrique Arias, a Spaniard living in Havana who was familiar with Cuba’s rules, regulations and business conduct. Arias could help convert The Island Rum Company project from a dream into a reality, and so he was invited in as a partner.

Even though Cuba is defined by many as the birthplace of rum, there are very few brands exported from the island. This is primarily because after the 1959 revolution, Fidel Castro and his communist party nationalized the country’s assets, including rum distilleries, and development stalled. Many Cuban companies, including rum producer Bacardi, left Cuba following the revolution and ceased to be Cuban brands.

“When we first started our mission in Cuba, we wanted to start our own rum brand”, says Villard. “But this was completely impossible due to the regulations.”

The Cuban government has, however, started to slowly ease its stance on private enterprise. And the Island Rum Company was able to convince Tecnoazucar, a Cuban rum company and brand owner, to work with them. They also undertook many meetings and correspondence to attain an export license. The project could therefore go ahead. 

The Island Rum Company decided early on that they wanted to produce a spiced rum. Their analysis showed a strong demand for the spirit and they were keen to be the first ones to bring the original spiced rum over from Cuba.

“We have worked long and hard to find the perfect blend”, says Villard. “It’s great to have finally found it and to launch this great drink.”

Black Tears is made from handcrafted 100% finest Vigia Silver Dry Cuban rum and has overtones of natural vanilla, chocolate, coffee, chili and pepper.The chart topping Norwegian musical duo Madcon thought it was so good in fact, that they became part owners of the brand.

“In the US, it is common for alcohol brands to use well-known celebrities who co-own and promote different ­alcoholic beverages”, says Villard.  “This hasn’t been seen before in Europe in the same manner, which makes this a very exciting venture to be part of.”

Madcon and the Island Rum Company team. Photo: Geir Dokken

Madcon’s music is renowned worldwide and the duo have collaborated with stars such as Ne-Yo, Kelly Rowland, Timbuktu and the Norwegian teen idols Marcus & Martinus. Their biggest fan base is in Germany. As a result, Germany is a key market for Black Tears rum and the drink is already being served in a number of German hotels, restaurants and bars.

And it’s now time for travelers on SAS flights to enjoy a taste of the Cuban spirit. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to have Black Tears served on SAS flights”, says Villard, “And we are really looking forward to getting some passenger feedback.”

Text: Agnes Sundblad Elverfors 

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