Cuba and Bacardi: A Complicated History

Bacardi rum
Bacardi rum | © Ed Ivanushkin / Flickr
Jack Guy

One of the most iconic alcohol brands in the world was founded in Cuba, but soon ran into a set of fascinating problems that led to its relocation. Read on to discover more about Cuba’s complicated relationship with Bacardi.

Bacardi products are sold all over the world today

An iconic brand with roots in Cuba

Everyone has heard of Bacardi, the brand is one of the most recognizable around the globe. However it hasn’t always had things so good. Bacardi Limited might now be the biggest privately held, family-run spirits company in the world, but it had to overcome an inauspicious start to reach these heights.

In 1862 Don Facundo Bacardi Masso set up a rum distillery in the city of Santiago de Cuba, in the east of the island. Far from churning out low quality spirits as the locals had been used to, Bacardi set about refining rum for more sophisticated palates.

The bat logo helped illiterate customers recognize Bacardi products

Political machinations and exile for Emilio

His business proved to be a roaring success, and things were going well until Emilio, his eldest son, was repeatedly arrested for having fought for Cuban independence against the Spanish. Forced into exile, Emilio left his father and other family members to sustain the business.

There were tough times but the company continued to grow, opening bottling plants in Barcelona and New York in the early 20th century. Despite this new international reach, Cuba remained the base for the brand until the revolution turned things upside down.

Bacardi leaves Cuba after assets are confiscated

While the Bacardi family supported the rebels and donated money to the cause at first, they then opposed developments as the revolutionaries went against the interests of the company. Luckily for them, significant trademarks and operations had been transferred out of Cuba by the time Fidel Castro confiscated the company assets without compensation after he took power.

You’ll most likely be served Havana Club in Cuba today

The falling out between these one-time allies has had far-reaching consequences, including a near total lack of Bacardi products in Cuba. These days, rum drinkers are more than likely to be offered the national rum, Havana Club, as well as other international brands in some privately run bars and restaurants.

If you want to find out more about the fascinating history of Bacardi and Cuba, read “Bacardi, The Hidden War” by Hernando Calvo Ospina.

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