Chip Dykstra digs into the troubled past of rum giant Ron Bacardi, their move from Cuba and how they became the most well known rum in the world.
Ron Bacardi & Cuba – Turbulent Times
By Chip Dykstra
I find it impossible to introduce my first review of a Ron Bacardi rum without speaking to the history of, and controversy surrounding this amazing company. Business acumen and savvy political skill have helped Ron Bacardi endure and prosper for almost 150 years. From very ordinary beginnings the company has become a giant of industry.
It started in 1862 when Facundo Bacardi and his brother José bought the Santiago de Cuba distillery and began to distill what would become the most popular commercial rum in the world. Using a method of charcoal filtering, and oak barrel aging along with a still of copper and cast iron, Facundo Bacardi (who was was prone to experimentation) created a smoother more refined version of the locally made rum. Over time, his smoother version of the spirit became first a local favourite, and over time, an international sensation.
In the early 1900’s the company opened new bottling plants in Barcelona and New York City. At this time, Cuba was popular with US tourists and opening these plants marked the beginning of Bacardi’s international expansion. Capitalizing on the influx of US tourists in Cuba during Prohibition, Bacardi branded Cuba as the ‘home of rum’, and Bacardi as the ‘king of rums.’
After Prohibition, the company moved a substantial proportion of the production to Puerto Rico, which allowed the rum to be sold tariff-free in the US. That partial move to Puerto Rico was extremely fortunate for Bacardi’s survival. In the 1960’s, the Castro revolution changed the commercial landscape of Cuba, changes that endure to this day.
I am not qualified to speak of the rights and wrongs of the Castro Revolution, but perhaps no other company in the world has the unique and controversial relationship with Cuba that Bacardi has. The Ron Bacardi Company left Cuba in the wake of Castro’s plans to nationalize all private property and privately held bank accounts on the Island. The Bacardi family moved all important trademarks out of Cuba, and using the plant built in Puerto Rico, was able to continue to build their company in spite of the loss of massive assets. All of the Bacardi assets which were left in Cuba were lost including the distillery in Santiago.
It is no wonder the Bacardi family and hence the Ron Bacardi Company has had such a turbulent and antagonistic relationship with Cuba ever since. It has even been speculated that the Bacardi family tried to help the CIA assassinate Fidel Castro, and it is well known that the (1960’s) President of Bacardi, Jose Pepin Bosch, purchased a B-26 bomber, with the alleged intention of bombing Cuban Oil fields.
Nowadays, it is popular to consider Bacardi a bully which uses its large political influence in the United States to promote its company’s interests. After all, Bacardi has grown to become one of the largest privately held liquor companies in the world, and most probably the largest rum producer in the world. But considering the history between the Ron Bacardi Company and the Cuban Government, I think it is fair to say that this story definitely has two very different perspectives.
Note No. 1: My review of Ron Bacardi 8 Yr Old Rum will be published here tomorrow. I thought this brief overview of the company and its relationship with Cuba might bring some perspective to the ongoing conflict between Bacardi and Havana Club.
Note No. 2: The research for this article draws on material gathered from the Bacardi website, and other mainstream media outlets. Readers should be advised that although I used other sources to fact check, the main sources are not necessarily impartial.
To read more from Chip, tune into The Rum Howler Blog.