This is the story of seven generations of the largest privately-held, family-run spirits company, which revolutionized rum and the rum-making process. Through natural disasters, financial hardship, U.S. Prohibition, disease and the race struggles of the Cuban Revolution, BACARDI forged ahead.
“Bacardi sons and daughters were famous for their patriotism, standing up first against Spanish tyranny and then, in the next century, against the island’s homegrown dictators…as Cuba established its cultural identity, becoming the corporate patron of Cuban baseball and salsa music.” – “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten
A Catalan colony was established during the expansion of the Spanish colonial empire in Santiago de Cuba at the beginning of the 19th century. Santiago de Cuba was one of six provinces of Cuba until 1976 and the name is still used to refer to the eastern part of Cuba. Santiago flourished during this time and attracted Bacardi’s European ancestors, the brothers Magin, Juan, José and Facundo Bacardi. Through hard work they established a general store selling everyday necessities.
“The Catalans had a reputation for being good tradesmen. An American who visited Santiago at the time described them as follows: ‘They arrive here poor, open up a shop of two or two and a half square metres, live on one bread roll a day, and through patience, hard work and thrift they become rich.’” – mixology.eu
Facundo was so prosperous by 1843 that, with his wife Amalia Moreau and a partner, he opened up his own business called Facundo Bacardi y Compañia. His family grew with the births of Emilio, Facundo Junior, Juan and Maria. The business continued to thrive and a second business was opened in the nearby mining town of El Cobre.
The year 1852 would mark the beginning of a tumultuous history for the family. Earthquakes destroyed Santiago’s infrastructure, bringing everyday life and business to a halt. Adding to this disaster weeks later was a cholera epidemic, which claimed 6-year-old Juan and infant Maria. Heartbroken, the family temporarily returned to Spain where Emilio was sent to be educated in Barcelona. In 1855, business was so poor Facundo’s first company filed bankruptcy and closed. The family would have to start over.
It was in the 19th century that Cuba came to dominate the Caribbean sugar production when the Haitian slave uprising allowed the market to open up in other regions. The Spanish-speaking countries had little rum production at the time, as the Spanish Crown had prohibited its production. Other sugar islands benefited from the French and British distilling expertise and technology. The “aguardiente” (fiery water) was a primitive form of rum made from molasses, a waste product of sugar processing. It was a very low-grade quality popularized by Caribbean pirates and was the drink of the workers.
“Aquardiente was considered a cure for headaches and thought to speed the healing of wounds. Cubans also washed their hands in aguardiente and splashed it on their faces as a cleanser. They just didn’t much like the way it tasted.” – “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten
SETTING THE RUM MAKING STANDARDS
Soon the Spanish Crown would overturn its ban by encouraging, and offering prizes for, the production of hard liquor able to satisfy the tastes of the elite of the Spanish Empire. At this same time, Clara Astié, the godmother of Amalia Bacardí, passed away and left her estate to her goddaughter. When Amalia and Facundo inherited the house, they began employing the French Cuban José León Boutellier, who ran a small distillery there producing cognac and boiled sweets.
In 1862 a small, tin-roofed distillery was purchased by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó for 3,500 pesos in the city of Santiago de Cuba. There, he and José León Boutellier perfected the proprietary charcoal-mellowing, blending, and aging techniques by isolating an exclusive strain of yeast still used in Bacardi production today. Bacardí, Boutellier, y Compañia filtered the rum through charcoal to remove impurities. The rum was aged in white oak barrels, taming the harshness found in previous rums, and the final product was the first clear or “white” rum in the world.
“The distillery contained a copper and cast-iron alembic used for the distillation of rum. It was also home to a colony of fruit bats that lived in the rafters. In order for his BACARDI® rums to become identifiable and sell, his wife Doña Amalia suggested the use of the Bat Device as the symbol for his rums. Shortly thereafter, his creation became known by the people as el Ron del Murciélago, or ‘the Rum of the Bat’.” – bacardiusa.com
A bat was a symbol of good fortune in Don Facundo’s native Catalonia and also of the local Taino Indians. Bats symbolized brotherhood and lived and flew together. They had the self-confidence to fly in the dark without collision and in their silence, they stood for discretion. Most important, was their faithfulness because they always returned home. This symbol of the bat would become one of the most recognized brand trademarks in the spirits industry.
The branding of BACARDI aided in its massive success when the company began providing its own bottles and Facundo Sr. signed every single label by hand. This was an innovation in marketing at the time, since rum was historically sold in barrels or poured into containers that customers would bring to liquor shops. A gift of a coconut palm was given to celebrate these auspicious beginnings, and 14-year-old Facundo Jr., planted it directly in front of the distillery. The tree grew over the years and became a visible symbol of the prosperity of their company.
Competition began to spring up, but by 1888 BACARDI® rum was appointed “Purveyors to the Royal Spanish Household” and was the best known rum on the island.
When Amalia went to Spain to fetch young Emilio, she found a broadly-educated young man with a worldly self-assurance. He also returned with a clearer understanding of the division in Santiago with those who considered themselves Spaniards and supported slavery and the Crown. The liberals argued for civil rights, opposed Spanish despotism, held secular values and favored sovereignty for Cuba, if not complete independence – all irreconcilable differences.
Towards the end of 19th century, Cuba began its battle for independence from Spain. Emilio was the first Cuban born of the family and his rebellions included running an underground paper he and some friends published in defiance of censorship, as well as his fighting in the rebel army against Spain.
“Because the sugar cane plantations had built their businesses on the use of slave labor, Emilio was forced to perform a delicate balancing act: On the one hand he advocated the abolishment of slavery, which was also one of the principal demands of the freedom fighters; on the other hand this same group selectively destroyed and plundered the plantations, thus jeopardizing the Bacardi family’s livelihood and business since they were dependent on sugar cane as one of the main raw materials of rum production.” – mixology.eu
The Cubans had to deal with the issue of race before staging a full revolt. Blacks were in the majority and that kept many white Cubans from pushing for independence. They feared without Spanish colonial authority behind them, they would lose their privileged place in the country. But an independent Cuba couldn’t keep part of its race enslaved and a war wouldn’t be won without the efforts of all of its citizens. Blacks and whites did not freely mix in the 1860s, but the color lines were not as sharp as in the southern United States, because slaves could purchase their freedom in Cuba.
The first Cuban war for independence began in 1868 when a plantation owner, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, freed his slaves and invited them to join him and arm themselves against the Spanish military. The following “Grito de Yara” (the Cry of Yara) became repeated and known across the island as a proclamation of Cuba’s independence.
“Citizens, he said, up until now you have been my slaves. From this moment on, you are as free as I am. To win its independence and freedom, Cuba needs every one of its sons. Those of you who want to follow me, follow. Those who want to stay here, stay. Everyone will be equally free.” – Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten
In a month Cespedes’ revolutionary army went from 147 fighters to 12,000. Many were poorly dressed and armed with machetes. Each time they entered a city they shouted “Viva Cuba Libre! Independicia o muerte!” (Long live free Cuba! Independence or death!).
Emilio’s son, Emilito, left his tearful parents at age 18 to join the rebel fighting in the mountains. Emilio had sent a letter to the “Bronze Titan,” General Antonio Maceo, asking that his son fight under the general’s command, whose battlefield exploits were legendary. Emilito would recall meeting him was the most emotional moment of his life.
“This was the ideal of the Cuban revolution: a young white man from a privileged background feeling honored to serve under a dark skinned commander who was descended from slaves and had once been a mule driver. For a true revolutionary, racism was not just wrong; it was unpatriotic. Cubre Libre was to be a land governed by Cubans, for all Cubans.” - “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten
DON FACUNDO BACARDI RETIRES
In the midst of this war in 1874, Don Facundo and his sons bought out Boutellier’s stake and renamed their distillery Bacardí y Compañia. Soon Facundo Sr. put the company in the hands of his sons Facundo Jr. and Emilio. Facundo Jr. was given the secret rum formula by his father and became the master distiller, creating many blends of his own, while Emilio became company president. Emilio participated in and incited many rebellions against the Crown; over the years he was repeatedly imprisoned and exiled from Cuba, leaving behind his wife Maria and young sons Emilito and Daniel. Maria passed away in 1885, leaving Emilio in a deep depression with six young children to care for. He remarried in 1887 and expanded the Bacardi family further by fathering four more children.
With the ban of alcohol in the U.S. in 1928, the company closed its New York bottling plant and changed strategies.
“It kicked off an innovative campaign promoting Cuba as an enticing, tropical island escape from the drinking restrictions back in the USA. Tantalizing postcards illustrating the allure of Havana nightlife and BACARDÍ rum cocktails were mailed out. And a major airline ad encouraged U.S. customers to ‘Fly to Cuba and Bathe in BACARDÍ rum.’ The strategy paid off. American tourists flocked to the lively Havana bar scene. One of Cuba’s first skyscrapers, Edifico Bacardi, opened its elegant black-and-gold art deco bar to celebrities and entertainers and even the Spanish royal family.” – bacardilimited.com/150
Cuba was also a haven for prostitutes, gangsters and gamblers during Prohibition and considered the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. Lawlessness and corruption flourished.
“Emilio expanded his father’s company to Spain and the United States. … 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.” – diffordsguide.com
By the 1930s, Bacardi had expanded its facilities in Mexico and Cataño, Puerto Rico, which is now the largest premium rum distillery in the world.
During the war of independence from Spain, the family’s main focus was on business and the BACARDI company continued to flourish. It received numerous awards in world fairs and was appointed the official supplier of the Royal Court in 1888. During the 1890s, Facundo’s third son, José, opened a sales office in the city of Havana.
When the United States came to Cuba’s aid, the result was the Spanish-American War of 1898. The ten-week war resulted in a treaty allowing the U.S. temporary control of Cuba.
There was significant American influence on Cuban classic cocktails like the Cuba Libre. Coca-Cola was unofficially imported onto the island in the kit bags of American troops. By 1900, it was officially exported to Cuba for the first time and the Cuba Libre is still a very popular drink today.
“The Daiquiri, a rum sour, probably has its roots in the Canchánchara, a mix of honey, lime and rum which was formerly served in Cuba as a refreshment. The cocktail version, in which the honey is replaced with sugar and the ingredients shaken with ice, was devised by American mining engineer Jennings Stockton Cox sometime around 1898.” – mixology.eu
The Daiquiri would eventually be known as the Bacardi Cocktail when, in a landmark consumer rights court case in 1936, the New York Supreme Court declared it be made with BACARDI® rum. It featured a dash of grenadine, giving it a color different from its competitors.
José (“Pepín”) Bosch
José ‘Pepín’ Bosch was the grandson-in-law of Don Facundo. In 1949 he became Cuba’s Home Secretary taking the country’s $18 million deficit into a $15 million surplus. He was the CEO of the BACARDI® company in the 1950s. Time Magazine said Bosch’s success was from uncommon ministerial honesty.
The ‘50s were a time of corruption and government interference in business and Bosch feared for the company fortune. The Cuban Revolution was led by Fidel Castro against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista between 1953 and 1959.
Between 1955 and 1957, Bosch made a pivotal move by relocating the company’s assets to Nassau, Bahamas and along with it, the ownership of trademarks and proprietary formulas.
On Oct 13, 1960 the Cuban revolutionary government approved a law nationalizing all major industries and over 400 companies’ assets were seized by the government. BACARDI’S losses would equal 76 million, but their most prized asset would escape Cuba. The military sent to seize the Bacardi family’s assets had to catch a commercial flight to Santiago. When they arrived, “one of Bacardi’s most valuable possessions – the BACARDI yeast – had already left Cuba and any cells left behind had been destroyed, preventing anyone else from making BACARDI® rum.” – bacardilimited.com
Bacardi executives were forced to sign an expropriation document and a company that had taken 98 years to build was confiscated by Cuba’s new regime. Castro’s government made rum in the old BACARDI facility and at first they tried to call the rum Bacardi, but the government lost trademark battles in courts around the world and finally renamed it Havana Club, which it is still called today. Neither BACARDI nor the creator of the original Havana Club, José Arechabala, were ever compensated for their assets. In the late 1990s, BACARDI purchased the rights to the recipe for the original Havana Club rum from Arechabala family.
The company headquarters were moved from the Bahamas to Bermuda in 1965 and it eventually moved into the current Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-inspired landmark building in 1972. The famed German-American architect first came in contact with Bacardi at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1929. In 1957, Bosch hired Mies to design buildings for their headquarters in Santiago and their Mexican operations in Tultitlán. According to www.bacardilimited.com, Bosch had “A vision for an office where there were no partitions; where everybody, both officers and employees, could see each other.” The headquarters in Santiago were never built due to the revolution, but two buildings were inspired by the architect’s original design: Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Germany, in 1968, and the Bacardi International Limited building in Bermuda in 1972 (the company’s current headquarters).
BACARDI began its rise after a joint advertising venture with The Coca-Cola Company in 1966. Celebrating Cuba’s Independence Day, the first ad appeared in Life Magazine, showcasing the origins of the BACARDI & COKE. The ad plugged the rum’s mixability with the tagline, “The Mixable One,” and the association with COKE® evolved to the BACARDI Party campaign.
“In 1978, BACARDI® rum becomes the number one premium distilled spirits brand in the United States with more than 7 million 9-liter cases sold. 1979, BACARDI® rum recognizes worldwide sales close to 16 million 9-liter cases making it the world’s number one selling premium spirit brand. 1983, BACARDI celebrates the production of its 200 millionth 9-liter case of rum since being exiled from Cuba in 1960. 1989, BACARDI launches BACARDI BREEZER in the United States.” – bacardilimited.com
In 1992, Bacardi Limited was formed, unifying five separate strategic operating units of the company. BACARDI acquired the Martin & Rossi Group, the world’s largest maker and distributor of wines, in 1993. The company doubled in size and gained powerful distribution in key European markets. More than 200 brands and labels were added to their one-brand portfolio, making them one of the top five spirits companies in the world.
The next decade would see continued growth when BACARDI added such notables as DEWAR’S, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE, CAZADORES and GREY GOOSE. Family-owned and run for seven generations, the company employs 6,000 people around the world in 16 countries and territories.
In 2008, the seven-time Formula One racing champion, Michael Schumacher, became the company’s first Limited Social Responsibility Ambassador for their award-winning “Champions Drink Responsibly” campaign. The current ambassador is 10-Time Grand Slam Winner, Rafael Nadal.
“In 2009, Bacardi Limited achieves “Triple Crown” certification and leads the industry as the only major spirits company in the world to have all its facilities globally certified to be operating in accordance with the world’s most recognized standards for quality, environment, and health and safety – ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 – putting the company among an elite group of the world’s best-run companies.” – bacardilimited.com
The 98-year-old coconut palm Facundo Jr. planted withered and died in 1960 when the Bacardi family was exiled from their homeland.
“The tradition of planting or displaying a coconut palm at Company offices, distilleries and bottling plants lives on, as the El Coco symbol reminds us of our Cuban roots and our ability to overcome any obstacle as it continues to inspire the Bacardi values. In 2012, in honor of our 150th Anniversary, a new coconut palm tree will be planted at the BACARDI distillery in Puerto Rico.”
Commemorating 150 Years
One hundred fifty years after its founding, the largest privately-held spirits company is celebrating bringing people together. Its portfolio contains more than 200 impressive, award-winning brands and labels. According to Bacardi, to understand the company, you must understand that the name Bacardi has three meanings: it is a family, a company and a brand, each having evolved over the course of 150 years. The BACARDI company and the Bacardi family “believe the importance of spending time with friends and family is key to overall feelings of happiness and well-being.” – www.bacardilimited.com
Corporate responsibility has also always been a focus and foundation of Bacardi. Don Facundo began this commitment when he volunteered to be the chief organizer of disaster relief after the devastating earthquake in Santiago. The family has built on this for 150 years through volunteerism and monetary donations.
“As we commemorate our 150th year, we are committed to continue the sustainable business practices, fairness to employees and generosity to the community at large that built Bacardi during the past 150 years.” – Bacardi Family, bacardilimited.com
To celebrate their history, eight master blenders of the Bacardi family have combined their talents to create a special limited-edition rum, Ron BACARDÍ® de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII. It is a blend of 20 years of fine rums aged in oak barrels and finished in 60-year-old cognac barrels. Two hundred hand-blown crystal decanters are available.
The family is looking forward to returning to their homeland and remains committed to Cuba:
“The day is drawing near when Cuban exiles will be able to return home. The Bacardi family is as deeply committed to the people of Cuba as it is to the Company, and I feel a great obligation to devote every effort in leading the family and the Company back to its birthplace and to help the people of Cuba in every way possible.” – Facundo L. Bacardi, current Bacardi Limited Chairman and great-great grandson to Bacardi founder.