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150 Years of Bacardi

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

It’s hard to think of a brand that is as synonymous with a spirit as Bacardi. Order a Bacardi and Coke and everyone knows that you mean rum and that cola that’s also a household name. Heck, the rum maker even has a drink named for it—legally. The Bacardi Cocktail is a mix of citrus juice, Grenadine and rum, but not just any rum: A court decided in a 1936 lawsuit that’s if it’s ordered that way, it must be served with Bacardi.

But the company’s roots and lore go much further back—150 years ago this year. That’s when Facundo Bacardi Massó set out to tame rum in Santiago de Cuba and ended up making it a worldwide fixture. Bacardi applied scientific method to the rum category, which was notorious for being raw, rough and undependable. He charcoal filtered his rum twice and mellowed it in oak barrels. The use of a proprietary yeast helped standardize the taste. It was his wife who suggested the bat logo—a symbol of good luck in Cuba—after the fruit bats that inhabited the distillery’s rafters.

Generations of American tourists discovered the lush rum on trips to Havana, but in 1960 the maker’s Cuban assets were confiscated in the wake of the Communist revolution. Happily, for the Bacardi family, which soon departed its homeland, they had exercised the foresight to set up foreign outposts and move the yeast strain and trademarks out of the country. Production was first transplanted to Puerto Rico, and the corporation has since set up shop across the globe. Bacardi has also diversified with such well-known international brands as Dewar’s Scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin and Grey Goose vodka.

While we know the brand best for its clear—but aged—expression Bacardi Superior Rum, the company now makes a panorama of styles, including the formidable Bacardi 8, an eight-year-old that stands out with other dark rums, like Ron Zacapa, Pampero and Santa Teresa as an excellent partner for a cigar.

On the occasion of its sesquicentennial, Bacardi has released Ron Bacardi, de Maestros de Ron, Vintage, MMXII, a special blend of eight- to 20-year-old rums that were finished in 60-year-old Cognac barrels. The highly limited release (200 crystal decanters in leather cases) sells for $2,000 (500 milli-liters). Bacardi Superior was also recently reissued as the 1909 Heritage Limited Edition (at left, $24.99). The bottle design is inspired by the original 1909 packaging and the liquid is made at the original alcohol strength of 89 proof (or 44.5 percent).

Visit bacardi.com.

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