Catalan immigrant in Cuba turns rough pirate drink into soft rum


In earlier times it was often kings and emperors who gave a product name recognition. It was no different for the Cuban rum of the Bacardi brand. The breakthrough came in 1892.

The six-year-old Crown Prince of Spain, later Alfonso XIII, who was in frail health and suffering from the foul stench of Madrid, had been struck down by a severe flu. “The royal physicians,” the annals say, “knowing about the quality awards the rum had received, administered a quantity of Bacardi to the prince.

That night, for the first time in many days, the boy fell into a sound sleep. In the morning the strength of the fever was broken.' The royal secretary wrote the firm a letter to her

for "creating a product that saved His Majesty's life." Bacardi, el rey de los rones, el ron de los reyes (Bacardi, the king of rum, the rum of kings) could not be called an empty advertising slogan.

It was only strange that Emilio Bacardi, the owner of the firm, had been imprisoned for four years as the leader of a revolt against the king, not for the last time. The Bacardis fought in Cuba for the independence of their island.

Facundo Bacardi y Maso, founder of the dynasty and father of Emilio, had arrived in Cuba in 1830 as a fifteen-year-old boy from Sitges in Catalonia. He was part of a wave of immigration that increased the population from 130,000 to 1.3 million in a hundred years.

The Spanish settlers were attracted by the sugar cane industry, which flourished with the use of black slaves. By 1860, a third of the world's sugar production came from Cuba. The Bacardis settled in Santiago, a port city on the southeast coast of the island.

Due to the inward movement of French settlers, who arrived after a slave revolt in nearby Santo Domingo, the city also breathed a touch of French lifestyle, fueled by ballet schools, an art school, a theater and an opera company.


Facundo's older brothers had opened a hardware store where he could work as a boy. Later he set up his own business, including for the import of French wines. In 1843, when he was 27, he married Amalia Moreau, a santiaguera of French origin.

They would have six children, four of whom form the basis of the current Bacardi family tree.

At Facundo you could also buy rum from the Englishman John Nuñes, who had set up a small distillery in Santiago. The production of rum was obvious because the drink is prepared from molasses, the syrupy mass that remains during sugar preparation.

And there was no shortage of molasses in Cuba. The syrup was diluted with water and fermented by adding yeast. If the fermentation was too slow, 'a dead animal or a large piece of meat' was put into the unwilling vat.

Rum was at that time still a primitive, often deadly drink of pirates, sailors and workers.

In 1862 Nuñes sold his zinc-roofed distillery on Calle Matadero. On February 4, 1862, Facundo, his brother José and a French wine merchant took over the business for 3500 pesos.

According to Bacardi mythology, Facundo developed a "secret formula" for a new type of rum, smoother and more refined than that of its Caribbean neighbors. The secret was mainly in a distilling process in which rums of different ages and origins were mixed.

Double distillation and an aging process in oak barrels, in which a chemical interaction between the alcohol and the wood took place, did the rest.


At the time Facundo began distilling rum, Cuba was the last Spanish outpost in Latin America. The struggle for independence was also inevitable here. A coup d'état against the Spanish queen in 1868 sparked the revolution in Cuba.
ignite a national fire. The center of the uprising was Santiago, the country's second largest city, far from the capital, Havana.

Father Facundo was a Spaniard by birth and remained faithful to his homeland, but his children were Creoles, born in Cuba, and wanted independence. Especially Facundo's eldest son Emilio was very active in the resistance.

In 1877, the 62-year-old founder left the business to his eldest sons, Emilio and Facundo Jr., which did not prevent the two from continuing their rebellious activities. In 1879 they were both arrested. Emilio disappeared for four years in a Spanish prison in North Africa.

Revolutionary leader Emilio Bacardi

Facundo Bacardi y Maso died on March 9, 1886, aged 71. Among the images cherished by the Bacardi empire is also a portrait of him: a man with an angular face with determined features around the mouth. Unfortunately, it was not signed until many years after his death.

Little information has been preserved about his person.

He disapproved of his sons' revolutionary ambitions, but let them be. According to oral tradition, he was a taciturn, very formal man. He never appeared in public without a high collar, cuffs and shiny black shoes.

Even his children never saw him in shirtsleeves. The strongest image that remained with his sons was of a father pacing the patio on his return home, waiting for dinner, deep in thought.

Cuba libre

His son Emilio also played a major role in the 1895 invasion of Cuban revolutionaries led by the renowned poet José Martí. He was arrested again and transferred to North Africa.

Spain made the mistake of sinking a ship that the United States had sent to protect American citizens in Cuba. The incident brought the Americans on the side of the revolutionaries. Together they won the victory over Spain in 1898.

Cuba was independent. Santiago welcomed the released Emilio Bacardi as a hero. He immediately became mayor of the city. And the American liberators brought Coca-Cola, their national drink.

Legend has it that one hot August afternoon in 1898, an American lieutenant stepped into what was then known as an "American bar" in Havana. He had just ordered himself a sip of rum, Bacardi, of course, when he saw befriended officers with a Coca-Cola at the far end of the bar.

He decided to mix the two drinks and named the mixture Cuba libre, in honor of the country's newly won freedom.

Fidel Castro

In the nearly hundred years that followed, the Bacardis had good luck or turned adversity into fortune: Due to its softer quality, Bacardirum was best suited for the cocktails that became popular in the United States at the turn of the century.

During the American Prohibition – a total ban on the sale of alcohol – rum from Cuba was the ideal contraband. And when the ban was lifted in 1933 after fourteen years, Bacardi was back at the front of the line.

Before his revolution in the late 1950s, Fidel Castro could initially count on the financial support of the Bacardis. They even paid for the funeral of the first barbudos killed.

Nevertheless, in 1960, in the context of the communist state economy, the assets of the company Bacardi – then worth $76 million – were confiscated.

The family spread across a whole range of neighboring countries, which only hastened the international breakthrough of the crystal clear drink. As exiles they were forced to orientate themselves more internationally.

Once again misfortune had brought fortune. "Where would we be without Fidel Castro?" so the Bacardis say ironically today.

About 60-70% of the rum traded around the world today is Bacardi. The annual turnover of the 13 Bacardi companies, in which more than five hundred descendants of ancestor Facundo own shares, is estimated at more than one billion dollars.

Approximately 264 million bottles or more than 180 million liters are shipped out every year.

Bacardi is by far the largest spirits brand in the world, ahead of Martini (135 million litres), Smirnoff (133 million litres), Pastis Ricard (67 million litres) and Johnnie Walker (60 million litres). In 1992, Bacardi acquired a majority stake in Martini & Rossi for $1.4 billion.

Only in their beloved Cuba, their cradle, the Bacardi heirs - joint wealth according to the economic weekly Forbes 1.5 billion dollars - do not get a foothold.

In neighboring places like Miami, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, the Bermudas and Mexico, they patiently await the downfall of the man who drove them off their island and whom they hate to the core: Fidel Castro.

In his recently published 'Bacardi Rum', Colombian journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina devotes nearly two hundred pages to the anti-Cuban political activities of the Bacardi clan.

Who among them will live long enough to walk the streets of Santiago de Cuba and visit Calle Matadero, where Facundo Bacardi y Maso first applied his secret formula in a zinc-roofed shack?

The bat

The bat symbol that adorns all bottles of Bacardi dates back to prehistoric times in Calle Matadero. According to one version, a colony of bats lived in the distillery when Facundo took over.

According to another, the bats did not live in the shed but outside in a tree and at night they alighted in the kitchen with their wings to nibble on the sweet molasses that served as the basis for the rum.

Or perhaps the story is true that before they took over, the Bacardis sold John Nuñes' rum in their small department store in pitchers that had originally held Spanish bat-branded olive oil.

So the customers asked about the ron del murciélago, the rum from the bat. In Spanish culture, the bat is also a good luck charm.