The Untold Truth Of Bacardi Rum

Bacardi was the world's second best-selling rum in 2019, with 17.8 million cases sold (via Spirits Business) — it trailed only Tanduay, a Filipino brand (via Spirits Business). Although Tanduay might beat out Bacardi in terms of sales, Bacardi may win you over with its rich history, which spans more than a century and a half.

The rum's origin story goes back to 1830, when a man named Don Facundo Bacardi emigrated from his Spanish hometown of Sitges to the Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba (via Youtube). At the time, Santiago de Cuba was the island's second largest city, and Cuba was still under Spanish rule. Bacardi began working at a distillery and made rum that was typical of the time. Tom Gjelten, who wrote a book about Bacardi and Cuba, referred to old-fashioned rum as a "rough man's drink" (via NPR). It was an incredible 85 percent alcohol and was so strong that it was typically only drunk by pirates and used as medicine by everyone else. But Bacardi was interested in making a lighter, more polished rum that could be more widely enjoyed. 

The early days of Bacardi

Bacardi had a wealthy wife named Doña Amalia whose funds allowed him to buy out the distillery where he worked in 1862 for $3,500. He spent months developing and perfecting his custom rum. It required a specific type of yeast to produce the beverage that he had envisioned. It was lighter, lower in alcohol content, and didn't have the same strong odor that old-fashioned rums did. Demand was quite high and the drink was sold all over the island by 1868.

Bacardi's wife was also behind the Bacardi logo. One day, she saw fruit bats hanging in the distillery and had a lightbulb moment, deciding they should be used to promote the rum (via YouTube). The company says that the bat stands for "good health, good fortune, and family unity." A coconut palm that was planted outside the distillery also took on a symbolic significance for the Bacardi family, representing their "strength and resilience" (via Bacardi).

Bacardi booms during Prohibition

Although Facundo Bacardi didn't plan to market the beverage internationally, his son, Emilio, the first Bacardi to be born in Cuba, took over after Facundo's death and began expanding the brand. Emilio was exiled to Morocco twice because he sided with the movement for Cuban independence from Spain. Once Cuba broke free from Spain in 1902, he returned and became mayor of Santiago de Cuba. Bacardi became Cuba's first multinational company in 1910 when Emilio opened a bottling plant in Barcelona.

When the US entered the Prohibition era, it was actually something of a boon for Bacardi because Americans came to Cuba to buy rum. After Prohibition was lifted, Bacardi started marketing its rum in the United States, where they already had an established customer base. The popularity of cocktails like the daiquiri and the Cuba Libre, which incorporated Bacardi rum to great effect, helped the company take off in the United States.

Problems with the new Cuban government

Soon after Fidel Castro came into power in 1959, the regime seized an estimated $76 million in Bacardi assets. As a result, the beverage maker moved to the Bahamas, and ever-increasing demand kept the brand afloat. Bacardi was actually impressively prepared for this move. Given the family's high political profile (Emilio's patriotism was passed down through the generations, apparently) and the tenuous political environment in Cuba, the Bacardis actually prepared for such an event by moving the trademark for the company, assets, and the rum formula outside of Cuba in case they were ever forced to flee (via El Meson de Pepe). 

Later, the company moved production to Mexico and Puerto Rico, where it remains today. Bacardi is not offered in Cuba anymore since the family fled. Instead, the government-owned Havana Club brand is commonplace. Though, Bacardi bought the rights to the Havana Club recipe and started marketing it in the U.S. in the 1990s. That led to a legal dispute with the Cuba government, which Bacardi won. The French company Pernod Ricard, which has laid claim to the Havana Club trademark, also battled Bacardi in court (via NBC News).

Bacardi as a leader in the field

In 1964, a million cases of Bacardi rum were sold and by 1968, sales had increased to 2 million. Around the same time, Bacardi opened up an American headquarters in Miami. By 1980, it boasted the best-selling liquor in the United States. While the company's rum sales have slipped somewhat in recent years, its massive portfolio of brands keeps it relevant and positions it as one of the undisputed leaders in the alcoholic beverage industry.

In addition to its famous rums, the company also owns more than 200 brands, including Martini vermouth, Grey Goose vodka, Dewars scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin, and Patron tequila. As a private company, Bacardi is not required by U.S. law to reveal its earnings (via Investopedia). However, in 2014, unnamed sources told The Miami Herald that the company had pulled in $5 billion in revenue. After seven generations (via Bacardi), it remains the world's largest privately owned spirits company.