Bottles of Bacardi can be found across our great nation, from the hipster bars serving $17 craft cocktails, to the neighbourhood pub where everybody knows your name, and perhaps even in the back of Granny’s medicine cabinet for those nights she needs a hot toddy.
From its humble roots in Cuba way back in 1862, Bacardi has grown to the largest family owned spirits company in the world.
Barcardi’s first claim to fame in 1862 was a new method of producing rum, which was then seen as a drink of the lower classes. The introduction of a Cognac yeast in the fermentation process, followed by meticulous charcoal filtration led to a smooth and easy-drinking rum that was much more palatable than the other rough spirits of the day, considered fit only for pirates and reprobates.
The final step of aging the rum in oak barrels mellowed the flavour even further, and the entire process led to the development of the world’s first white rum.
This more refined and dignified tipple became a hit with the upper classes, and led Bacardi to great success, not only in Cuba, but around the world.
Unfortunately, the Bacardi family had to flee Cuba in 1960, when Fidel Castro seized all their corporate assets while nationalizing the economy. The Bacardi headquarters are now in Miami, and is run by the great-great-grandson of the founder.
The departure from Cuba was not a happy one, and the Bacardi family spent much of the 1960s embroiled in unsuccessful plots to overthrow or assassinate Castro.
When Castro proved a cunning and formidable foe, the Bacardi family decided to turn their attention to the greater world, and started expanding across the globe, coming to Canada in 1969, with a large production facility just outside of Toronto.
I have fond memories of Bacardi in the days of my callow youth, with many a night spent in dens of iniquity, knocking back watered-down highballs of Bacardi white rum & coke.
Bacardi was my gateway rum, which led me to the more full-flavoured and darker rums that I came to enjoy as my palate matured. I now sip my preferred rums directly from a tumbler, unsullied by sugary colas, but occasionally with a few ice cubes.
Today, after nearly 50 years, the only Bacardi distillery in Canada will be closing its doors forever, with most of the production capacity being moved to the headquarters in Florida.
Long-time readers will recognize this pattern, as the booze industry has been consolidating for decades, with older facilities being shuttered and multiple facilities being amalgamated in order to achieve the economies of scale needed to survive in the world market.
My boozing strategy has always been to think globally but drink locally, so with Bacardi’s departure from Canada, I will be swapping out the Bacardi products in my regular rotation with local equivalents.
This is harder than it might appear at first glance, as the Bacardi Spirits family encompasses more than 200 brands, including Bombay Sapphire Gin, Grey Goose Vodka, and a dozen or so popular Scotch whiskies.
The Gin and Vodka brands from Bacardi will be the easiest to replace in my cocktail shaker, thanks to the growing craft distilling movement here in Alberta.
The Eau Claire Distillery Parlour Gin is the granddaddy of craft gin in Alberta, and still my favourite. If you haven’t had the pleasure, pop into their tasting room in Turner Valley for a tour of the distillery and a wee sample.
The Park Distillery in Banff uses pure glacier water and a unique cross of barley and wheat called triticale to produce both traditional and flavoured vodkas. My favourite is the Park Vanilla Vodka, infused with vanilla beans from Madagascar for a delicious after-dinner drink.
Even the Bacardi Rums can be replaced by Calgary’s own Secret Barrel Distillery, who produce a white rum that has been taking Alberta by storm. While Alberta grows plenty of malting barley, the sugar cane used for making rum is in short supply here, so the Secret Barrel Distillery imports the base fermented sugar cane liquor from a 400 year old rum house in Guyana, and then distills the base liquor into a spirit, followed by filtration and aging in oak.
While the departure of Bacardi is a loss for Canada, help our local distillers pick up the slack by sampling their wares today!