How This Brand Became Our Favorite Rum (For a Long While!)
Image Credit: Bacardi has a really old legacy | Unsplash

Almost every liquor store in the world sells products under the Bacardi umbrella. The brand, which has been family-owned for more than seven generations, has long been synonymous with white rum. In this article, we will look at the company’s humble beginnings in Cuba and how it became the largest privately held spirits company in the world today.

The Bacardi brand was founded by Facundo Bacardí Massó, a Spaniard who emigrated to Cuba with his family in 1830. Massó, who was 16 at the time, would grow up to be a wine merchant. He would soon notice that there was a gaping hole in the country’s market for premium rum offerings. Rum was considered a drink for the masses at the time because it was cheap, crude, and barely consumable. Massó was confident that the drink had something to offer and began to experiment with distilling the beverage himself, with most of his endeavors financed by his in-laws. 

Over the course of over a decade, he would experiment with various techniques and machinery to create his first product, an aged white rum. During the course of his many trials, Massó would create a proprietary strain of yeast, derived from a local sugar cane variant. The strain is largely credited with "smoothing out" the rum by giving it a clear flavor profile. The yeast and the parallel distillation method are still used by the company today.

Massó would initially sell the rum in his brother's shop. As sales grew, the brothers decided to scale up production, and purchased a distillery in Santiago de Cuba. They began production in 1964, thereby establishing the Bacardi brand. The rafters of the distillery were home to a camp of fruit bats. His wife, Lucia, suggested that they use bats in their logo, as they were believed to symbolize unity, fortune, and prosperity. Massó agreed, despite his lifelong fear of bats. This decision would work in their favor. Because the population at the time was largely illiterate, the rum would be recognized primarily by its appearance. The locals would call it "el ron del murciélago," i.e., the rum of the bat.

Rum cocktails are really popular | Unsplash

The Bacardi brand would soon sell rum all over Cuba and overseas. Spain was the first country outside of Cuba to bottle rum. This would be followed by New York, to satisfy the growing demand in the US. Bacardi rum was indispensable to US bar culture from the moment it touched the country’s shores. This can be traced back to three factors:the drink’s inexpensive nature, the company’s aggressive promotion of cocktails such as the daiquiri (lime juice, sugar, ice shavings, and white rum), and Cuba’s popularity as a tourist destination during the prohibition era.

At the time, Bacardi was the only white rum on the market, which led customers to use the terms "Bacardi" and "white rum" interchangeably. In the years to come, Bacardi would launch several new flavors of white rum, starting with Bacardi Limón (which includes flavors of lemon, lime, and grapefruit), followed by lime, coconut, dragon-berry, and raspberry. Under the Gran Reserva series, Bacardi would also release many aged rums that had previously been reserved for the family.

Another interesting part of Bacardi’s history is the Havana Club saga. Havana Club was a dark rum originally produced in Cuba by José Arechabala S.A. After the company was nationalized by the Castro government without compensation, the production of the rum was taken over by Pernod Ricard (a French wine & spirits company), and the Cuban government. Bacardi would later purchase the original recipe for Havana Club from the Arechabala family. However, the company was not allowed to sell the rum outside the US, owing to the brand name being the intellectual property of Pernod Ricard and the state of Cuba. Litigation surrounding the use of the brand name continues today, with Bacardi still only being allowed to sell the rum under the Havana brand name in the US.

Bacardi is today helmed by chairman Facundo L. Bacardi. Under his leadership, the company has diversified its portfolio to include over 2000 brands that make spirits in every category, from beer to vermouth. Bacardi’s brand-name offerings have also won critical acclaim; in 2022, the Monde Selection Quality Institute awarded the Gran Reserva Ocho and Bacardi Gran Reserva Diez with the esteemed Grand Gold Quality Award. The company has also dominated the RTD (‘ready-to-drink’) market since the early 2000s with its premixed rum cocktails, a lineage that continues today with its various sub-brands, such as Breezer and Bacardi Plus.