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The Rum Dynasty: Bacardi

Bacardi Breaks with Tradition To Keep the Company and the Family Together
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 2)

After determining that his newly invented sipping rum might prove profitable, Don Facundo and his three sons bought the small distillery in Santiago for 3,500 pesos from the man whose rum they had previously sold. To commemorate the founding, the family planted a small coconut palm, El Coco, in front of the distillery. There, legend has it, Don Facundo found a family of fruit bats living in the rafters. Don Facundo's wife, Amalia Lucia Victoria Moreau, suggested the bats, a Cuban symbol of good luck, would make an easily identified trademark in an era when many people could not read. So the bats stayed in the rafters and went on the Bacardi label.

The new rum went on to win international awards and in 1888, two years after Don Facundo's death, Bacardi was appointed purveyor to Spain's royal house. That relationship took an auspicious marketing turn when, four years later, the court's doctors used Bacardi rum to cure the future king, Alfonso XIII, of the grippe. Bacardi began to advertise that it produced "the rum that saved His Majesty's life." As Peter Foster writes in Family Spirits, his compelling history of the Bacardi family and company, the Bacardis, as proud sons of Catalonia, opposed the rule of the Spanish Bourbons, yet still adopted the slogan, "Bacardi...El Rey de los Rones: El Ron de los Reyes." ("Bacardi...The King of Rums: The Rum of Kings.")

Future potentially ruinous world events, even as they roiled the Bacardis as patriotic Cubans, provided the Bacardi company with similar marketing opportunities. In 1895, the revered Cuban poet and revolutionary José Martí landed a boat just east of Santiago, beginning what Americans have come to know as the Spanish-American War, and what Cubans regarded as a war of independence. Martí was soon killed in battle. Manuel Jorge Cutillas' great-grandfather, Emilio Bacardi Moreau, who had taken the reins of the company, was a disciple of Martí and took great risks during the fight for independence, resulting in his living in exile with his family, first on the isle of Chafarinas and then in Jamaica. The impact of his absence and of an economy wrecked by war nearly devastated the Bacardi company.

The Americans were brought into the war in 1898 by the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana's harbor and the jingoistic journalism of William Randolph Hearst. The disparate legends created by the war included the charge up San Juan Hill by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and the invention of two rum drinks: the daiquiri and the rum-and-Coke.

The daiquiri is named for a Cuban copper-mining town east of Santiago where American troops had landed during the war. The story goes that in 1898 an American mining engineer, Jennings Cox, was hot and thirsty. To remedy the two conditions, Cox is reputed (in the Bacardi corporate literature) to have "devised a marvelous new cocktail based on BACARDI Rum and lime juice." Of course, rum mixed with lime had been around for about a century before that, starting with British sailors--limeys--who came up with the mix. Reportedly, Cox's innovation was to pour the rum and lime over ice. The story was commemorated in a 1963 Bacardi ad that shows a rugged American miner holding a tall daiquiri under which appear the words, "The original daiquiri was made with Bacardi (The best still are!)" Notably, in those early Cuba embargo days, Cuba is not mentioned anywhere in the ad.

The rum-and-Coke, according to cocktail lore and a 1966 Bacardi ad extolling the virtues of the libation, rose from another serendipitous collaboration between Cubans and Americans. The ad ran in Life magazine in 1966, and features three men, two of whom are in U.S. military uniforms. They are sitting around a table with a Coke bottle (in a style that didn't exist at the turn of the century) and one of the soldiers is pouring from a bottle of Bacardi. "So that's how 'Rum & Coke' was invented!" reads the caption. Filling out the page is an affidavit telling what is purportedly the true story of the invention.

"FAUSTO RODRIGUEZ, being duly sworn," the document read, "deposes and says: In 1899 I was employed as a messenger in the office of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. I became friendly with a Mr. [the name is blacked out], who worked in the office of the Chief Signal Officer. One afternoon, in August, 1900, I went with him to the [name blacked out] Bar, and he drank Bacardi rum and Coca-Cola. I just drank Coca-Cola, being only 14 years old. On that occasion, there was a group of soldiers at the bar, and one of them asked Mr. [name blacked out] what he was drinking. He told them it was Bacardi and Coca-Cola and suggested they try it, which they did. The soldiers liked it. They ordered another round and toasted Mr. [name blacked out] as the inventor of a great drink. The drink has remained popular to the present time."

The affidavit is notarized: "Sworn to before me this 24th day of October, 1965."

The coincidence is that this ad, which also fails to mention Cuba, appeared just after Coca-Cola launched its 1965 "Things go better with Coke" campaign and after Bacardi had made a deal with Coke to advertise jointly. The truly remarkable coincidence is that Fausto Rodriguez, irrespective of whether he worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, did once work for Bacardi's New York office as head of publicity. So well known was Rodriguez in the industry that he was tagged "Mr. Bacardi." Regardless of what really happened in the old American Bar on Havana's Calle Neptune, the many different versions of the tale, reported in Family Spirits, always end with the bartender serving the drink to U.S. servicemen and toasting, "Por Cuba libre!", giving the drink its true name, the Cuba Libre.

Just as the Spanish-American War had hurt the Bacardi company and family, so did the Volstead Act, though to a lesser degree. Passed in 1920 by the U.S. Congress and overriding President Woodrow Wilson's veto, the measure made Prohibition the law. Four years earlier, Bacardi had set up a bottling plant in Manhattan. As Foster reports, "When the Eighteenth Amendment appeared on the horizon, the company found itself in danger of being left holding 60,000 cases of rum. Enrique Schueg [who had become the head of Bacardi, having entered the family through his marriage to Don Facundo's daughter, Amilia Bacardi Moreau] came up with an ingenious way of disposing of this stock. He sold 60,000 shares in the company, then wound the company up and distributed its assets--one case of rum per share--to grateful and thirsty shareholders."

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