Don Facundo Bacardi began to deal with the art of distillationin in collaboration with Jose Leon Boutellier. The new rum style he created proved to be a success with the customers of his brother’s shop. The symbol of the bat and Don Facundo’s signature helped raise the brand’s recognition.
When Don Facundo began to develop an interest in rum in the middle of the 19th century, his timing could not have been better, as already described in part one of our series. The Spanish monarchy, which had prohibited the production of rum until 1796 on health and moral grounds, now actively promoted the production of hard liquor which would be able to "satisfy the taste of the court and the elite of the Spanish Empire", as stated in the official tender.
At this time, the Cuban sugar cane plantations, which were flourishing due to the favourable climate, all possessed small distilleries in which they produced Aguardiente, a primitive form of rum, from molasses, a "waste product" of sugar processing. Aguardiente was the drink of the workers, and it was served directly from the barrel in taverns or so-called Pulperias, open-fronted stand-up bars. The reason for its poor quality was the fact that hardly any modern distillery know-how had been imported to Cuba, unlike the French and British islands in the Caribbean. An additional hindrance was that Cuban sugar cane has an extremely high sucrose content, which, in uncontrolled distillation conditions, can lead to rapid, unrestrained alcohol production and high temperatures. This in turn kills the yeasts prematurely, with correspondingly fatal consequences for the end product.
Don Facundo and his brothers had never sold Aguardiente in their store due to its poor quality. Facundo Bacardi who himself grew up in a wine-growing region, was guided by his native instinct for quality in his search for a new liquid enterprise. Following the example of John Nunes, a British immigrant, he began experimenting with his French-Cuban business partner Boutellier, producing small quantities in their tiny facility in Marina Baja. Having attained a result that satisfied their high demands, they started selling the first units through the shop owned by Facundo’s brother, Magin Bacardi. Judging by the initial enthusiastic reactions from their customers, the new beverage showed a great deal of promise. Then, in 1862, Boutellier and Bacardi purchased Nunes’ larger distillery as well as one owned by a Catalan merchant named Manuel Idra. "Bacardi, Boutellier & Compania" was born.
A friend of the family gave the young company a coconut palm to celebrate the date, and Facundo’s 14-year-old son, Facundo Jr., planted it directly in front of the distillery. With the growth of their rum production and brand, the tree also grew over the years and became, for the Bacardi family, a visible symbol of the prosperity of their company and their ties to Cuba and the Caribbean.
What factors were at play in the success of Boutellier and Facundo Bacardi’s product?
The two entrepreneurs carried out painstaking experiments with various yeasts for months on end, eventually cultivating a fast-fermenting yeast which is typically used in cognac production. This yeast strain is lovingly nurtured to the present day and is used all Bacardi distilleries. The second factor, which was even more decisive for the light body of Bacardi Rum, was the introduction of charcoal filtering employing a mixture of tropical woods and coconut shells. Don Facundo was the first entrepreneur to use this technique in rum production, which first emerged in the 19th century. Alongside this filtration, which cleansed the Aguardiente of its otherwise typical taste-destroying impurities and resulted in the clear "colour" of the distillate, the third factor was the storage in American white oak barrels, which gave Bacardi Rum a unique quality. However, the most closely-guarded company secret is that the end product ‘Bacardi’ is a blend of two components. The two separately-stored ingredients are described by Bacardi as Aguardiente, which defines the character of the rum, and Redestillado, a distillate which gives rise to the light taste.
Beside all these technical characteristics, one must also take into account the unwavering promotion of the brand, which contributed significantly to the rise of this Cuban spirit. Rum was originally sold in barrels or poured into containers that customers would bring to liquor shops. As soon as the Bacardi company began providing its own containers, its own bottles, Facundo took to signing every single label by hand with the lettering "Bacardi M", which stands for the full family name, "Bacardi Massó". In addition to the personal signature, which spread out into the world from the port of Santiago, it was primarily the logo, the distinctive bat, which helped make the Bacardi brand famous. According to legend, the bat symbol either originated from a similar logo which adorned the olive oil containers that Magin Bacardi re-used for the sale of his rum, or from a colony of bats in the Nunes distillery which they took over. In the Bacardi family’s Catalan homeland, bats have been considered a symbol of good fortune since time immemorial.
In 1877, many years after his partner Boutellier had retired due to old age, Don Facundo handed the flourishing business over to his sons. The eldest, Emilio, who had grown up and was educated in Barcelona, was appointed president of the company. Emilio was set to guide the company through unsettled times. Towards the end of the 19th century Cuba’s long struggle for independence from Spain began. Emilio, who had experienced the political upheavals and the first democratic movements in Europe, gave his unequivocal support, like the rest of the Bacardi family, to the independence movement. This resulted in his being sentenced to serve four years in a Spanish prison.
Because the sugar cane plantations had built their businesses on the use of slave labour, 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.
History of Bacardi: The Roots of the Bacardi Family (Part 1)
History of Bacardi: The Bacardi Cocktails (Part 3)
Published in Mixology Issue 02/2009.
Author: Lukas Reimer
Translation: Alexander Zuckrow