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A Rum With a Story to Tell: Bacardi Turns 150 Years Old

Posted on  | April 25, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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One of Cuba's oldest drinks, the Authentic Bacardi Mojito

Each year, there are more Bacardi cocktails consumed than there are people who live on our planet. It’s sheer volume combined with its legendary history—this year Bacardi celebrates its 150th birthday—puts the rum giant in a category of one within the spirits world.

A Foundation of Innovation

Bacardi’s well-deserved reputation as an innovator began on day one with Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in Cuba in 1862. “He created the first light, smooth rum in an era when rum was rough and untamed,” explains Toby Whitmoyer, vice president, brand managing director, Rums, Bacardi U.S.A., Inc. “He revolutionized what rum could be.”

The meticulous Don Facundo introduced controlled fermentation and charcoal filtration for reducing and removing unwanted flavors. He was the first to identify and use an isolated strain of yeast he discovered in the sugarcane fields in Santiago de Cuba (the same strain still used today). After much experimentation, Don Facundo determined that high quality blackstrap molasses was the finest raw ingredient for yielding the best rum. And he was the first to blend and age rums in barrels to achieve better taste and smoothness.

At the Cutting Edge of Mixology

Bacardi grew and evolved over the years to become the largest privately-held spirits company in the world, one that today sells more than 200 brands and labels in over 150 countries around the world. Yet the Bacardi brand remains at the heart of the company’s vast international portfolio, with a track record hard to beat. In 1979—in spite of wars, American Prohibition, the Cuban revolution and subsequently being forced to relinquish assets and leave the country—Bacardi Rum became the number-one selling premium spirit on the planet. But more than just supplying a great quantity of what consumers were drinking, Bacardi changed the way we drank.

“Bacardi has played a critical role in creating the modern mixology culture,” says Whitmoyer.

The original Daiquiri (a blend of Bacardi and lime juice) was created by an American in Cuba, in 1898, and Bacardi was the base of the original Piña Colada. (In an interesting court verdict in 1936, a judge ruled that the Bacardi Cocktail, a Daiquiri with a grenadine splash, must be made with Bacardi rum.) The rum-and-cola Cuba Libre, a celebratory drink born in Cuba to toast the end of the Spanish-American War around 1900, remains the number one cocktail in the world today. Though the Mojito traces its roots to a 15th century drink called the Draque, the first recorded Mojito recipe is Bacardi’s original. In the fickle, ever-changing world of mixology, Bacardi cocktails have unusual staying power.

At the Flavor Forefront

Bacardi pioneered the category of flavored rums with the introduction of Bacardi Limón in 1995. The most recent, in a long list of flavor extensions, are Arctic Grape, Wolf Berry (aka Goji berry) & Blueberry and Sapote-infused Black Raspberry. “We are excited about continuing our successful line of superfruit infusions like our previously introduced Dragon Berry and Rock Coconut,” says Whitmoyer. “Our line of flavored rums  allows bartenders to bring natural flavors and aromas with a light body and smooth taste,” says Juan Coronado, Bacardi Brand Master. “Bacardi’s flavors bring new flavor possibilities to the cocktail glass, going from light and beautiful citrus notes to exotic fruits like Dragon fruit.”

Within two years of creating the legendary Bacardi Breezer in 1988 (designed to compete in the wine cooler category in the U.S.), it was ranked third among ready-to-drink spirits brands. Today, Bacardi offers a wide selection of cocktails: “Between the party drinks and the classic cocktail line—five of which are an RTD format—and the new low-calorie cocktail line we are unveiling this spring, we aim to deliver convenience options and cover a wide range of consumer need,” says Whitmoyer.

Another first: Bacardi Wolf Berry and Bacardi Black Razz packs feature temperature and black light activated labels—when they go in the freezer or are exposed to black light, different images appear. “It’s the first time a large company has brought a packaging innovation like this to market,” says Derek Hopkins, senior vice president, sales, Bacardi U.S.A. “It’s highly attractive to consumers, lending a ‘cool’ factor and a point of differentiation, and both on- and off-premise retailers can leverage that appeal to attract consumers.”

Dark Rum Boom

Compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. has historically not been a dark rum market. “While we have had a reasonably developed gold rum and spiced rum market, the traditional dark rums have remained a very tiny category here,” explains Whitmoyer. That, however, is showing signs of changing.

“High-end, dark rums and spiced rums are fueling the growth of the rum category,” says Hopkins (albeit from a small base). He points to Bacardi 8 and Bacardi’s relatively new OakHeart Spiced Rum as showing the most dramatic growth. “This is in large part because of interest from the mixology community and the overall resurgence of interest in dark spirits. Consumers have clearly elevated their perception of rum, and dark rums are now part of their consideration set alongside bourbons and whiskies.”

Coronado adds, “The dark Rum segment will continue to grow, as more consumers and bartenders become more knowledgeable; they understand that a rum that has been aged for 8 years is equivalent to a 18 year old whiskey due to the warm climate in the Caribbean.”

Bacardi’s dark rum portfolio got a big boost with the introduction of OakHeart last July. “As the rum leader, we felt it was important for us to bring out a spiced rum expression,” says Whitmoyer. Within 90 days of hitting the market, OakHeart became the fourth largest spiced rum in the U.S.

“Compared with other spiced rums, OakHeart has a slightly more mature taste; it’s balanced and less sweet with a hint of smoke that comes from aging in charred barrels,” Whitmoyer explains. “It’s unique in that it can be consumed neat or on the rocks, not simply in cocktails.”

Staying Relevant in the Bars

As hard as it is to visualize today, there was a time when vodka was barely a blip on the bartender’s radar—where clear spirits were concerned, rum was king. Yet vodka’s ascendance is not a bad thing, says Hopkins: “Spirits have gained significant share of total beverage alcohol consumption, stealing share away from beer. The overall size of the pie has gotten bigger and both vodka and rum are benefiting from this. In addition, the popularity of vodka has been good for white spirits as a whole.”

Bacardi’s focus today is reminding the trade—particularly bartenders—why rum is distinct: “Vodka is undoubtedly a very flexible spirit in cocktails, but rum is a really unique ingredient; it brings that sense of fun and energy; it creates cocktails that are more than the sum of their parts.”

To help keep this message alive in the on-premise, Bacardi holds a Legacy Cocktail Competition to identify the best drink—this year’s winner was from New York City.

“Bacardi’s brand master program in the U.S. works to actively train and educate bartenders across the country about the versatility of rum and our fantastic story,” Whitmoyer describes. “Few people in the industry realize that Bacardi is 150 years old—we want to spend this year telling our story in a more direct way.”

The company has metamorphosized dramatically since its founding, but its priorities have not changed. Bacardi’s focus remains the core rum portfolio, and the continued growth of base brand, Bacardi Superior, Whimoyer emphasizes: “We see a growing interest in rum—this is where we think the action is.”


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