The story of Bacardi starts with Facundo Bacardi Massó, the son of an illiterate bricklayer who grew up close to the harbour of Sitges, near Barcelona. Ships regularly left the harbour for the port of Santiago de Cuba on the Spanish colonial island of Cuba. Reports that this was a boomtown initially persuaded Facundo's two older brothers, Magín and Juan to immigrate to the new colony in search of their fortunes.
Work was plentiful in Santiago and the two Bacardi brothers quickly amassed enough money to open a general store. Buoyed by their success, in 1830 at just 15-years-old, Facundo followed them to work in the shop. He was joined a few years later by the youngest brother, José.
Facundo became engaged to 20-year-old Amailia Moreau, the orphaned granddaughter of a wealthy coffee plantation owner, and they married in 1843. Just three months later Facundo opened a grocery and dry goods store in partnership with an acquaintance from Sitges - the business was registered as Facundo Bacardi y Campañía. A year later, the newlyweds gave birth to their first child, Emilio, and Facundo and his business partner, who were now also importing wines and spirits from Spain, opened a second store. A second son, Juan, was born in 1846, followed by Facundo Jr. in 1848, then a daughter they named María in 1851.
The couple's married bliss was quite literally shaken on 20th August 1852 when successive earthquakes reduced many of the buildings in Santiago de Cuba to dust. While only two people were killed by the quakes, the outbreak of cholera which followed due to the breakdown in sanitation claimed a tenth of the town's population, including the lives of 6-year-old Juan and infant María.
Distraught with grief, and desperate to escape the epidemic, the couple fled with their surviving two sons back to Spain where they stayed with Facundo's parents in Sitges. The couple returned to Cuba after a few months, leaving their eldest son, Emilio, in the safe custody of a family friend, Daniel Costa in Barcelona. Costa was an educated man and the years Emilio spend living under his tuition would prove valuable to the future development of the Bacardi Company.
On their return to Cuba, Facundo found his store had been ransacked. Despite borrowing money from his wife's wealthy godmother, Clara Astié, to restock the shop, the general melee following the earthquakes and cholera, coupled with a downturn in the island's sugar cane industry due to sugar beet cultivation in Europe, the business was forced into bankruptcy in 1855. Surprisingly, the demise of 25 years of hard work did not deter Don Facundo from entrepreneurialism and his next venture would be as a rum producer.
Don Facundo Bacardi Massó
Cuba's soil and climate were ideally suited to growing sugar cane, and although the island produced plentiful molasses from sugar processing, this was either shipped in barrels to rum distillers in America's New England or dumped as waste. This stemmed from the puritanical Spanish having prohibited rum production on the island until 1796. After this, the little rum that was crudely made on Cuba's sugar estates was of such poor quality that it tended to be used as a disinfectant rather than drunk. It was the British and French islands of Jamaica and Martinique which had the reputation for rum-making and consequentially enjoyed an export trade.
John Nunes, one of the first commercial rum distillers in Santiago, was of British descent and had some distilling knowledge. In 1838 he established a small distillery on Matadero Street . It may have been the success of this new distillery which inspired Facundo to approach another local distiller and confectioner, this time of French descent, named José León Bouteiller, or it may simply have been that opportunity presented itself.
Bouteiller, who was known for his candies and a liqueur which he made from oranges, rented a house on Marina Baja Street in Santiago's harbour area from Facundo's wife, who had inherited the property from her recently deceased godmother. Facundo negotiated that some of the rent paid would be by way of shared use of Bouteiller's pot still and the two begun experimental distillations to discover what variables of fermentation and distillation produced the best rum. They sort to compete in quality with the rums from Jamaica and Martinique.
Facundo Bacardi and José León Bouteiller started their rum business with the little they produced sold unmarked in whatever packaging they could fine at Facundo's brother's store. Understandably their rum became known as Bacardi's rum.
On 4th February 1862, the partners purchased Nune's Marina Baja Street tin-roofed distillery, with Facundo's younger brother José backing and joining the partnership. Nune had struggled with rum production for 20 years and sold up for just 3,000 pesos. The partners started to use their newly acquired copper and cast iron pot still and also continued to make rum at the house on Marina Baja Street, using the adjoining house, number 32, as their office.
Famously, it is during this period that the 14-year-old Facundo Jr. planted a young coconut palm in the front yard of the new distillery. As the distillery expanded, so work had to go around what became affectionately known as El Coco. The takeover of the Marina Baja Street distillery and planting of El Coco marks the true start of the Bacardi rum legend, so it is fitting that from this point on we refer to Facundo as 'Don Facundo', so showing the respect that he undoubtedly earned in the small island community.
Before the end of February 1962, the Bacardi partners took over another small distillery, also on Marina Baja Street, from a Catalan liquor merchant named Manuel Idral. They were rapidly expanding and in May 1862 their firm was incorporated under the name Bacardi, Bouteiller, y Compañía.
Don Facundo also spent many years experimenting with various yeast samples to find the one that allowed for the fastest fermentation, so producing a mash with fewer impurities, less contamination and a higher alcohol content. When distilled, this produced a lighter rum with a consistent flavour profile. He used a natural yeast, now known as La Levadura Bacardi, which was found locally in the sugarcane plantations near Santiago de Cuba - in doing so, Don Facundo was the first rum producer to isolate and later culture a proprietary strain of yeast. Bacardi Superior is still made with the same strain of yeast that Don Facundo used to this day.
Don Facundo chose molasses over the more common and cheaper 'guarapo', or sugarcane juice, due to the low water content of molasses reducing the risk of contamination and concentrating the mineral content. Molasses is also effectively pasteurised during the sugar extraction process of which it is a by-product, so preventing bacteria, mould and natural yeasts from causing spontaneous fermentation. This allows the flavour development in the mash to be controlled, and produces a lighter, cleaner spirit.
In his quest to produce a more refined and lighter rum Don Facundo also created two different mashes. One had a flavour profile containing a high level of minerals, to make a spirit with a more pronounced flavour for the distillation of Aguardiente, and the other had a lighter profile to create a more delicate and refined spirit for the distillation of Redestilado.
The long transportation of rum in barrels by ship meant the beneficial effect of aging in oak was understood by the late 1600s. Due to the practice of sterilising barrels which had previously contained wine or food before being used to transport rum by charring the inside, so it was also beginning to be understood that contact with charcoal had a mellowing effect on rum. Don Facundo was the first to employ both oak aging and then charcoal filtration to make the first light white rums.
It is the combination of selected yeast and controlled fermentation, the blending of a light 'Redestilado' and a heavier Aguardiente, oak aging in casks and charcoal filtration that set Bacardi's light rum apart. Don Facundo combined four important and then very new rum-making techniques to create Bacardi Carta Blanca. White rums existed before Bacardi Carta Blanca, but they were harsh and unrefined, being bottled straight from the still. Bacardi was the first aged white rum and it set a new standard which others followed to create a new rum category, which Cuba became famous for.
Popular myth, and indeed the Bacardi marketing department, has it that the famous Bacardi black bat set in a red circle logo was the idea of Don Facundo's wife, inspired by fruit bats living high in the rafters of the distillery. Bats were considered lucky in both local and Spanish folklore, and in 1860s Cuba, many people were illiterate so the bat symbol made for a clever visual aid to distinguish Bacardi rum.
The business prospered and was eventually taken over by Don Facundo's two sons. The eldest, Emilio, expanded his father's company to Spain and the United States. He was also a major influence in Cuban independence and was arrested and deported twice by the Spanish for anti-colonial activities. He became the first freely elected Mayor of Santiago de Cuba and eventually Senator of Cuba's Eastern province. However, he became disenchanted by the American government's interference in Cuban politics so he resigned his post to focus on managing his family business. When he died, shortly after the completion of a new distillery in 1922, Santiago's shops closed for two days in mourning.
Enrique Schueg, Don Facundo's son-in-law, was also politically active and in 1894 was arrested by the Spanish governors. Thanks to the intervention of France's Minister of External Affairs he escaped execution, but was deported to Haiti until the end of the Civil War. He would later become the Bacardi Company's third president.
José 'Pepín' Bosch, Don Facundo's grandson-in-law and CEO of the Bacardi Company in the 1950s, was another family member to hold high office when in 1949 Cuban President Carlos Prio Socarras persuaded him to become Cuba's Ministro de Hacienda (Home Secretary). During his term of office, Pepín turned Cuba's $18 million deficit into a $15 million surplus. Time magazine wrote: 'The secret to Pepín Bosch's success was uncommon ministerial honesty and an un-answering drive to collect taxes uncollected by lax predecessors."
Worldwide demand for Bacardi grew rapidly and the company's distilleries were working at full capacity, and in 1931 the company opened a distillery in Mexico and in 1936 another in Puerto Rico. (The present Cathedral of Rum distillery in Puerto Rico was opened in 1958.
Back in Cuba, the 1950s saw a turbulent political situation erupt with a series of coups d'état. It was a time of widespread corruption and government interference in business. The then CEO, José 'Pepín' Bosch, feared Bacardi would fall prey to such interference by the Batista regime and so between 1955 and 1957 he transferred the assets of Compania Ron Bacardi S.A. to Nassau in The Bahamas. In doing so, he moved the ownership of trademarks and the Bacardi Company's proprietary formulas outside Cuba.
The choice of the Bahamas for the 'offshoring' of Bacardi from Cuba was understandable. During Prohibition the Bahamas had been the trading post where firms such as Bacardi sold their goods to smugglers for sale in the important U.S. market. As a member of the British Commonwealth, the Bahamas offered addition protection and security. With no income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, value-added tax (VAT) or wealth tax, Pepin Bosch's choice of the Bahamas looks like a wise one to this day.
Meanwhile, Fidel Castro promised democratic elections and an end to government corruption, so understandably Bacardi backed his struggle. On 31st December 1959, Castro succeeded in his revolt to overthrow the Batista government. Castro was welcomed as a liberating hero and the Bacardi family believed Cuba was finally becoming a free and just place. Indeed, the Bacardi building greeted the arrival of Fidel, Che Guevara and the compañeros with a banner proclaiming, "Gracias, Fidel!" And Castro's trade delegation to the USA had included José Pépin Bosch and Daniel Bacardi, two of the family's heads.
However, in October 1960 Castro's administration instigated a program of forceful expropriation and confiscated all private assets on the island without compensation. El Coco, the palm Don Facundo Jr. had planted back in 1862, inexplicably started to wither and finally died. Local prophecy that El Coco symbolised the company's strength and vitality proved to be correct, as all of the Bacardi Company's assets were confiscated and the company was nationalised by the Cuban administration. The Bacardi family and business were exiled from their homeland.
Fortunately, the company's intellectual property was safely off the island. It was not just the trademarks that eluded Castro's government. An oversight led to the company's headquarters being raided a full day after the warehouses, distillery and other offices, so giving Bacardi's distillers (Maestros de Ron) time to destroy the all-important yeast cultures (La Levadura Bacardi) and their secret charcoal recipe. Without these the Cuban government could not produce rum that tasted like Bacardi Superior.
The Bacardi family had been extricating its assets from Cuba but not because they feared Castro, whom they had supported. Pepin Bosch feared Batista and his connections to organised crime. By 1957, the Bacardi distillery in Mexico produced 28,000 litres of rum per day, while its Puerto Rican distillery doubled its output in 1958 to 75,000 per day. In 1959, the Bacardi distillery in Malaga, Spain opened. But for Pepin Bosch's foresight and desire to build a global business, Castro could have spelled the end of Bacardi rum. As it was, he inflicted a hell of a bloody nose, and one which the Bacardi family will understandably never forget, but the cultures of La Levadura Bacardi, its charcoal recipes and other proprietary processes were safely held in the company's other distilleries. American hatred of Castro and all things communist also did not hurt support for Bacardi in the key U.S. market.
Bacardi was awarded its first medal in 1877 in Madrid and in its first seventy years amassed a further 29 awards, ten of which appear on the label. Bacardi is now the biggest international spirit brand, sold in more than 170 countries and the company, which is still controlled by the Bacardi family, is the fifth largest liquor company in the world.