Don Facundo Bacardí Massó was born in 1814 in the Barcelona, Spain, province of Sitges, the son of a Catalan bricklayer. In 1830, he, along with his brothers Magín and Juan, emigrated to the Spanish Colonial trading town of Santiago de Cuba and worked with them in their general store. In 1843 he had saved enough capital to open his own mercantile enterprise, calling it Facundo Bacardí y Compañía.
Just prior to starting his business, he married Lucia Victoria “Amalia” Moreau, a well-educated woman of means. The two had six children, Emilio, Juan, Facundo, María, José, and Amalia. Two of the children, Juan and baby María, were claimed by cholera in an epidemic that followed the devastating 1852 earthquakes in Santiago de Cuba. The grieving family fled the epidemic and the devastated city and went to Catalonia for a time. Upon their return, Don Facundo, as he was respectfully called, found his store looted and economic conditions suffering. His business was bankrupt by 1855.
Shortly thereafter, Amalia’s wealthy godmother died and left an estate to her goddaughter. José Leon Bouteiller, a French distiller and confectioner, was a tenant of the estate who operated a working pot still on the premises. Don Facundo settled rent terms with Bouteiller that allowed shared use of the pot still. The two began experimenting with the cultivation of fast-fermenting yeast that would produce a lighter, smoother rum.
The rum of the locals in Santiago was a rough drink, so fiery and unpalatable that it was largely preferred as a disinfectant or for medicinal purposes than for drink. This was partly due to restrictions imposed until 1796 by the Spanish Colonial government that banned the production of rum, resulting in crudely-made Cuban rum that was a stark contrast to more refined French-Caribbean distilled rums. Bacardí sought to create a rum similar to the spirits in Jamaica and Martinique, but instead brought Cuba renown as the birthplace of premium rum in a class by itself.
Don Facundo invested many years researching fast-fermenting strains of yeast that produced a light rum with full-bodied flavor. He used special charcoal filters (made with Cuban hardwoods and coconut shells) to filter out impurities and aged the rum in oak barrels, which had the effect of mellowing the flavor. Finally, in order to produce his smooth, flavorful rum, he blended drinks from two different mashes—one stronger like the local aguardiente and the other lighter with a more refined taste. In doing so, Don Facundo set a new standard for rum making with his careful experimentation and perseverance.
In 1862, Don Facundo, his younger brother José (who emigrated a few years after Facundo), and Bouteiller entered a partnership under the name “Bacardi, Bouteiller, and Company.” As a merchant, Don Facundo knew that branding a product with a notable image would help customers remember it. Family legend holds that Don Facundo’s wife, Amalia, suggested the fruit bat as a brand for the rum, because of the many fruit bats which could be found in the rafters of the company distillery. The rum became known throughout Santiago as the “Rum of the Bat.” The black bat on a red background continues today as the distinctive logo of BACARDÍ rums.
BACARDÍ rum was enthusiastically received, and the business prospered. Don Facundo and his sons bought out José and Bouteiller in 1874, renaming the company Bacardí y Compañía. Upon his retirement in 1877, his sons Emilio, Facundo, and José ran the business, with Emilio as president, Facundo as master distiller and guardian of the secret formula, and José as sales manager.
The founder of Bacardi y Compañía lived to see his rum grow in fame and popularity, but could not know that his company would have worldwide renown more than a century after his death in 1886. Don Facundo’s painstaking care in developing and marketing BACARDÍ rum left a legacy of hard work and attention to detail that many of his descendants would emulate in order to grow the company into the largest privately owned premium spirits company in the world.