The Bacardi family became involved in Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain. At the end of the 19th century export to the United States grew and the American influence became significant and fruitful for the success of Bacardi cocktails. This part of our Bacardi series is introducing the most well-known Cuban classics based on Bacardi rum.
As we reportet in part two of this series, the Bacardi family was actively involved in the Cuban independence movement. For many years, Emilio Bacardi collected donations for the rebel army which active in the Cuban hinterland. He also served as one of its city-based contacts for secret communications. His son Emilito even became actively involved in combat by joining the rebels and fighting under the command of the popular rebel leader Antonio Maceo. The Spanish authorities were not oblivious to the Bacardis‘ sympathy for the cause of independence: This was to result in Emilio being imprisoned several times, while the rest of the family had to seek temporary exile in Jamaica.
Although they played the patriotic Cubans, the Bacardis retained their business savvy when it came to global opportunities to sell their rum. The Bacardis‘ participation in several World Fairs, resulting in many awards for their rum, and the appointment by the Queen of Spain as official "Supplier to the Royal Court" in 1888, attest to this. The brand finally received a major boost when, following the American invasion of Cuba in 1898, the political and economic situation stabilized to some extent and, more significantly, the American continent opened up as an export market. Right up to the present, Cubans, even exiles in Miami, criticize the dominance of the island’s big neighbour, the USA.
However, in terms of cocktail culture and the popularity of Bacardi Rum, the American influence was certainly significant and fruitful. The following are the most well-known Cuban classics that are based on Bacardi Rum:
The name of this long drink made from Cuban rum and American Coca-Cola harks back to the battle cry of the Cuban independence movement. Coca-Cola was imported to the island in the kit bags of the American troops who landed on Cuba in 1898. In 1900 this fizzy drink began being officially exported to Cuba for the first time. It is believed that the year of inception of this mix, which is still immensely popular even today, was 1900. According to eye-witness Fausto Rodriguez, a Cuban bartender from Havana named Barrio was the first person to serve this drink to American military personnel who frequented his bar.
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 some time around 1898. He named the drink after the town of Daiquiri, which was located not far from his mine. The drink eventually gained popularity in the bars of Havana where it was shaken and served by the masterful hands of well-known bartenders such as Constante Ribalaigua.
The roots of the Mojito stretch back to the 17th century and the privateer and circumnavigator Francis Drake. The English adventurer always kept a store of wild mint on his ships which he mixed with sugar cane spirits and lime, because he believed that this special mixture would protect his men from fever and disease. The origins of the drink bear strong parallels to the Juleps, which are still popular in the southern states of the USA. This Bacardi cocktail was to become even more popular than the Daiquiri and to this day is considered Cuba’s unofficial national drink.
The above-mentioned Daiquiri became known as the Bacardi Cocktail, especially in the USA. This variant, which became established later on, featured a dash of Grenadine, lending it a different colour to its Daiquiri competitors which used other brands of rum. This cocktail is the first example of a copyright protected recipe. After Prohibition ended, many bars on the American mainland began serving Bacardi Cocktails without the original ingredient. One of these establishments was the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, which was thereupon sued by the Bacardi company. In 1936 the New York Supreme Court ruled that a Bacardi cocktail must contain Bacardi Rum.
Ernest Hemingway Special
The American author Ernest Hemingway was convinced, an opinion not shared by his doctors, that he had diabetes. Thus, in 1938, Constante, the bartender at the Bar La Floridita created a "low sugar" Daiquiri variant especially for him. This drink, a Floridita Daiquiri with Maraschino, lime juice, and a double serving of rum, was to be later modified by Meilan, one of Constante’s employees, with the addition of grapefruit juice. Hemingway often picked up a large serving of this concoction in one of the thermos flasks the bar always kept ready for him. This version of the drink was also called Daiquirí a la Papa, or Daiquirí Como Papa.
All these drinks featuring Bacardi Rum became popular in the first decades of the 20th century. They also chart the brand’s route of expansion, showing Bacardi’s increasing focus on exports. Emilio Bacardi’s good political connections – he was even mayor of Santiago for a time, gaining credit for his efforts in the rebuilding of the city following the ravages of the war of independence – were certainly not a disadvantage. It was above all during Prohibition that Bacardi experienced a real boom. On the one hand, a great quantity of the product was being exported, which then found its way into the Untied States via various indirect routes; on the other hand, a growing number of American tourists were visiting Cuba, which increased demand for the product on the island.
In 1936, with the construction of a production facility in Puerto Rico, their expansion aspirations were placed on a solid foundation. Since Puerto Rico was associated with the USA, Bacardi Rum produced there would not be subject to the import taxes which had previously put it at a competitive disadvantage in the American market. At that time, the Bacardis were not yet aware that this strategic step would also secure the future survival of their brand.
Coming soon: The future after exile (the history of Bacardi, part 4)
Published in Mixology issue 03/2009.
Author: Lukas Reimer
Translation: Alexander Zuckrow