[Brand Focus ] The success story of Les Bienheureux

Les Bienheureux, the company behind Bellevoye whisky as well as Pasador de Oro and Embargo rums, was born out of love at first sight. Let’s take a closer look at this French success story. Beware sensitive souls, there’s talk of an orgy (but it’s not what you think)!

El Pasador de Oro

In 1992, Thierry Jacquillat, Managing Director of Pernod-Ricard, was looking for a rum to buy. Alexandre Sirech, then marketing director of the French group’s Spanish subsidiary, recommended a Cuban brand that was beginning to make a name for itself in Madrid’s bars.

“The juice was good, but the packaging needed a complete overhaul”, he recalls. It was Havana Club, of course. Although neither Thierry Jacquillat nor Alexandre Sirech had any particular links with the Castro regime, Jacquillat asked Sirech’s boss, Michel Bord, to look into the matter and make contact with the Cuban government.

These initial contacts, made thanks to a Marxist bookseller in the Spanish capital, gave rise to the Cuban government’s first joint venture with a foreign company. On 22 November 1993, Havana Club International was launched.

In the arms of Fidel Castro

In the meantime, Alexandre Sirech left Pernod Ricard and launched the online wine sales site ChateauNet, which he sold in 1999 to Jean-François Moueix, a Bordeaux wine merchant (Duclot) who also owned the iconic Pétrus in Pomerol.

But Thierry Jacquillat convinced him to return to the Pernod Ricard fold and move to Cuba to put Havana Club back in order. The rest is history. Thanks in particular to the launch of the mojito, Havana Club became one of the best-selling rum brands in the world in just a few years, even though it had no access to the American market because of the embargo on Cuban products.

Sales of Cuban rum doubled in 4 years, reaching two million cases (9L) in 2004. However, Alexandre Sirech did not really thrive in this role, torn as he was between his political convictions opposed to those of the Castro regime and his forced proximity to it. “There were times when I found myself in Fidel Castro’s arms at around 2 o’clock in the morning”, he recalls. The Frenchman felt “misaligned”. And “when there’s misalignment, bad things happen: ulcers, depression, cancer…”.

For him, it will be a tumour. Alexandre Sirech left his position at Pernod-Ricard with a sense of duty accomplished, and in 2005 decided to go into the wine business with his wife, creating an audacious blend of Merlot from Bordeaux and Syrah from the Rhône, which enabled him to comply with the non-competition clause preventing him from marketing spirits for three years.

Les Bienheureux
Les Bienheureux is the result of a “bromance” between Alexandre Sirech (left) and Jean Moueix (right).

Love at first sight

The story could have ended there, had he not met Jean Moueix (the son of Jean-François, who had bought ChateauNet). One evening in 2008, the phone rang at Alexandre Sirech’s house: it was Jean-François Moueix. Moueix isn’t in the habit of disturbing people at late hours, so Alexandre Sirech thought there must be a problem.

He told me that his son Jean was in Cuba and absolutely needed a car, which at the time was not easy,” recalls Alexandre Sirech. Thanks to my local contacts, I was able to find it for him. Once the service had been rendered and the prodigal son had returned home, the latter decided to invite his benefactor to a restaurant. It was to be love at first sight, despite their 19-year age difference.

What followed were passionate discussions, plans and even the drafting of a 101-measure programme that they circulated to the presidential candidates at every election, with their hearts on the left and everything else on the right. “But, as Alexandre Sirech admits, they never got a response.

A few years went by, and while Jean and Alexandre were lounging on a beach in Cap Ferret in 2012, Jean made Alexandre a shock proposal” what if they set up a company together to put their ideas into practice?

And so Les Bienheureux was born in 2013 in Louchats (40 km from Bordeaux), in the middle of the forest. The company embraces a number of values: ethics, aesthetics, rigour, quality, respect for mankind and nature, sincerity, patriotism and humour… which are translated into four concrete commitments: all employees are on permanent contracts, the minimum wage is set at €2,000 net, there is no tax optimisation and no subsidies.

Alexandre Sirech feels completely aligned. Les Bienheureux began at the end of 2014 with 2 niche products: Parati cachaça and Coro Coro cocoa rum. Then it will be the turn of three best-sellers from Les Bienheureux: Embargo rum in spring 2015, soon followed by Bellevoye whisky and Pasador de Oro rum at the end of 2015.

Round and smooth

In the case of Pasador de Oro, Alexandre Sirech decided to move away from the Cuban molasses rum he had made his rum career with, so as not to have to deal with the Castro regime again. In the meantime, he had discovered some exceptional juices from Central America, Guatemala in particular, made from cane honey.

In other words, “pure cane juice concentrated several times by steaming, the stage just before crystallisation. With Jean and cellar master Olivier Dumont, we thought we could add value to these juices through blending and ageing,” explains Alexandre Sirech. This gives us smooth, round spirits with a low sugar content (between 11 and 20 grams per litre)”.

As with Bellevoye, which has become France’s best-selling 100% whisky in just a few years, this blend of light and heavy rums, distilled in column stills and aged in ex-cognac casks, is sure to be a great success. Pasador de Oro is a rum that is easy to drink thanks to its smoothness and roundness, but it is no less rich and complex.

In a way, it’s a blend of Cognac expertise and the science of Guatemalan cane honey rums. In any case, it’s particularly appealing to newcomers to the world of rum, with its Gran Reserva (40%) and XO (40%) cuvées, or Pasión, infused with fresh passion fruit, but it won’t put off connoisseurs either.

Les Bienheureux
Cellar master Olivier Dumont and Alexandre Sirech

The great rum party

Straight shooters to the core, Jean Moueix and Alexandre Sirech didn’t stop there and, a few years later, launched a UFO on the rum market. “I was brought up in the tradition of French agricultural rum, then I discovered Cuban-style molasses rum, and finally with Pasador, cane honey,” explains Alexandre Sirech.

“I wanted to combine all these styles. We put them to bed and have a great rum orgy. Pure juice gives a fabulous nose, molasses is easier to digest and honey makes it creamy”. And so Embargo was born in 2015, a blend of rums from Martinique (cane juice), Trinidad (molasses) and Guatemala (cane honey).

Añejo Blanco and Añejo Extra are more suited to being drunk in cocktails, but Añejo Esplendido is a really good blend, again easy to drink neat, but complex. All of this is encased in a highly successful packaging with its imaginary links to aviation, Cuba and cigars.

Looking forward to 2025

Since its launch, Les Bienheureux has gone from strength to strength. Around 40% a year, doubling every two years, and the pace is accelerating! 63% of sales are in France, with 37% exported, with the USA leading the way, followed by Canada, South-East Asia and Japan.

While there are no major announcements for the end of the year, we should mention the arrival of a recycled glass bottle for Embargo, as well as the switch of the range to bag-in-box, an initiative praised by the cocktail scene and bartenders tired of their bottle chores. In the skittles department, we should note the Christmas release of a Bellevoye in a Pasador finish.

What does Les Bienheureux have in store for us in the future? It’s hard to say, as Jean Moueix and Alexandre Sirech, knowing that the competition is watching them closely, are careful to say as little as possible.

But there’s no doubt that, following the takeover of the Bercloux whisky distillery, there will be talk of distillation again (this time of rum) between now and 2025…

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