A visit to the Bacardi Rum distillery (Casa Bacardi) has long been a popular shore excursion during cruise ship calls in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is an attractive place to spend an afternoon and the various talks give you an overview of hos rum is made. However, you do not see much of the actual rum-making process. Furthermore, it is not an afternoon of drinking and indulgence. The Bacardi distillery is set in a nicely landscaped campus on the other side of the harbor from the cruise port at Old San Juan. In fact, through the breaks in the trees, it was possible to catch a glimpse of our ship sitting at a pier across the bay.
Our bus parked next to a modern open air pavilion. Beneath the towering roof was the ticket booth and a large bar surrounded by tables and chairs. Our driver/guide went over to the ticket booth and arranged for us to enter.
When he returned, he was carrying a bag full of Bacardi glasses and pagers. He handed each participant a glass, a coin and a pager. The glass was for the drink that was included in the tour, the coin was to pay the bartender for the drink and the pager was to signal us to assemble for the tour. The estimate was that it would be 10 to 20 minutes before the tour began.
The bar was fairly busy and so the participants had to line up for their drinks. Some of the particpants were able to get their drinks. However, the pagers went off to summon everyone to assemble before everyone had been served. The bartender said that you could not take the drinks with you on the tour and so he stopped making them when the pagers went off. He then handed the coins back to those who had not been served.
We assembled nearby and boarded a while tractor train that would take us around the Bacardi campus. About half the group were sipping their drinks while the remainder watched in envy.
The train took us to an office building, the main lobby of which had been decorated with a mural depicting the history of the Bacardi family and the business. Also in this room were a group of barrels that had been filled with a rum created especially for the 150th anniversary of the founding of the company.
A bartender arrived and proceeded to give us an introductory history of Bacardi. The company was founded in 1862 in Cuba. Then in the 1930s, it was decided to expand with distilleries in Puerto Rico and in Mexico. Today, 85 percent of the company's rum production is done in Puerto Rico while the remainder is done in Mexico. The company is still directed by the Bacardi family.
The employees seemed quite proud of their company pointing out that their rum had won numerous awards. One story the bartender related was that when King Alfonso XIII of Spain was a child he suffered from an illness that no one was able to cure. Someone gave him a drink of Bacardi rum and the King started feeling better. He was given more rum and eventually the illness went away. That is supposedly the origin of Bacardi's title “King of Rums.”
When the bartender had finished, we boarded the train again and were taken a short distance to the tallest building on the campus. This was the distillery building.
The ground floor of the building is decorated like an old warehouse. Another Bacardi employee explained that aging is an important part of making rum. Bacardi buys American wild oak barrels that have been used by other distillers to make whiskey. These are cleaned and burned and made into new barrels. Distilled rum is then stored in these barrels. The longer the rum is stored, the more flavor and color the rum gets from the barrels.
It seems that a colony of fruit bats lived in the first Bacardi warehouse. This was viewed as a sign of good fortune and so ever since the bat has been the symbol of Bacardi.
Next we were takn by elevator to the third floor. Here, there were displays showing how rum is made. The process begins with sugar cane harvested in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. This is made into black strap molasses. The molasses is then fermented using a yeast culture that has been with the Bacardi company almost since the beginning. The fermented mash is then distilled up to four times. After that it is aged.
Quality control is maintained both by the use of technology and highly trained tasters.
Once the guide had explained all this, we were taken up a flight of steps where we could look through a window at a field of massive tanks used to distill the rum. Even though the tanks were closed and even though we were behind a glass window, the smell of the rum was overpowering.
Above: An open-air pavilion houses a bar and acts as the starting point for the tours.
Below: The second stop on the tour is an executive building the lobby of which contains a mural showing the history of Bacardi.
Above: The next stop was the distillery building.
Above: The fermentation control room.
Below: Rum distilling vats.
This was our only glimpse of rum actually being made. There were various references to what happened in various other buildings around the campus but they were not part of the tour.
The final stop of the tour was the visitor center. Here, we were shown classrooms where you can take a rum mixology course or participate in a rum tasting. There was also a gift shop where you could buy Bacardi products and souvenirs.
You could taste the various flavors and types of Bacardi cum at a counter towards the back of the shop. Of course, these were very small samples but the employee operating the counter did not seem to mind letting you sample as many of the products as you desired. Naturally, this was a popular part of the shop.
When you finished at the gift shop an employee directed you back to the pavilion where the tour had started. It was much less busy now and inasmuch as there was still time before the bus back to the ship was supposed to leave, we were able to have the drink that we missed when the tour started.
Above: A narrow gauge train once used in the rum production process now stands outside the distillery building.
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Cruise shore excursion review - - San Juan - - Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour