Bacardi Rum is a success story that has influenced an entire region and established a whole new category of spirits. Bacardi has become a symbol of summertime and lust for life all over the world. But paradoxically, nobody knows the full story. Here we’re going to tell the Bacardi story over the course of six articles.
You know Bacardi? Are you sure? Then, dear reader, you’ll surely know that the name ‘Bacardi’ is stressed on the final ‘i’. As soon as one begins researching the history of this legendary brand of rum, there emerges such an abundance of little-known and startling facts that one series of articles hardly suffices to relate them all. Being thus limited to focussing on the essentials, we’ll start by telling you about the roots of the family that, right up to the present day, runs the largest family-run spirit company in the world.
The Bacardis’ forebears came from Europe, more specifically from the port of Sitges, which lies south-west of Barcelona. During the expansion of the Spanish colonial empire, a thriving Catalan colony became established in Santiago de Cuba at the beginning of the 19th century. The prosperous trading town at some point attracted Magín, Juan, José and Facundo Bacardi, the sons of a stonemason. In Cuba, they worked hard to establish a shop selling goods for everyday requirements. 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.”
By 1843, Facundo, the second youngest of the Bacardi brothers, had saved so much money that he could afford to open up his own business with his wife Amalia Moreau and a partner: Facundo Bacardi y Compania. Over the following years the family grew, with the birth of the children Emilio, Facundo Junior, Juan and Maria. The business prospered similarly, allowing Facundo and his partner to open up a second shop in the nearby mining town of El Cobre. However, in 1852 the tide turned. A series of earthquakes destroyed Santiago’s entire infrastructure, bringing public life and trading to a halt. Moreover, a cholera epidemic broke out, forcing the young family to leave Cuba temporarily and return to Facundo’s parents in Sitges.
When Facundo and his wife Amalia set off to return to Santiago, they left their son Emilio in the custody of a friend from Barcelona who was to take care of the education of the talented boy. Back in Santiago, the Bacardis were to face great hardship in the years to come. Many inhabitants had left the city and the region of Santiago and business was poor. In 1855, despite financial assistance from his relatives, Facundo’s first company was forced to close down.
The demise of his business offered Don Facundo – as Facundo Bacardi was respectfully called by those around him for his serious manner – the opportunity to make a new start. It was in that decade of the 19th century that Cuba became the greatest sugar-producing country in the Caribbean. Up to that point Haiti had dominated the global market. However the slave uprising at the turn of the century had reduced Haiti’s sugar production considerably, opening the markets for other cultivation regions with similar climates such as Cuba or Jamaica. Unlike the French-dominated Caribbean islands, the Spanish-speaking countries hadn’t had any noteworthy rum production up to then. The little aguardiente that was produced was of inferior quality and tended to be used more for medical purposes than for drinking. Another reason for the feeble development of distillation in Cuba was the decrees of the Spanish Crown, which had for a long time prohibited the production of rum.
When Don Facundo began to turn his interest to the production of rum, it could not have been at a better time. Up to that time, large amounts of molasses had been exported the United States for rum production, but as the settlers advanced further West their taste began to increasingly favour grain spirits. Furthermore, due to its geographical location Santiago had good connections with the French colonists of the other Caribbean islands, many of who had moved to the city.
One of these citizens of French origin in Santiago, José Leon Bouteillier, was a tenant in the house of Amalia Bacardi’s godmother, Clara Astié. He ran a small distillery there, producing cognac and also boiled sweets from the sugar residue of the distillation. After her godmother’s death, Amalia inherited the estate in Marina Baja Street. This gave Facundo the opportunity to finally realize his plans to start producing rum himself. Facundo reached a new rent agreement with José Boutellier that granted him use of the pot still that was installed in the house.