On Wednesday, January 28, 2009 I met Federico Hernandez, the organizer of the upcoming Puerto Rico Food and Rum Festival along with Ministry of Rum member Rumelier. We had scheduled a tour of the Ron del Barrilito facility as well as the Bacardi plant. Here is an account of the Bacardi tour.
Fresh off our tour of Barrilito we were straight off to Bacardi arriving at the gates around 11:30 AM. The guard issued a tour pass and we were directed to the visitors parking lot. Federico lead us directly to the newly inaugurated tasting center. It is an open air semi- circular bar with an interpretative design Bat wing shaped roof.
We were greeted by a representative who quickly issued us two tickets apiece, each good for a complimentary Bacardi libation. The Rumelier inquired if we had been put on a VIP tour. The representative asked us to belly up to the bar while she verified our tour. Two bartenders were on duty. Pre-made Mojitos were lounging in an interesting glass dispenser contraption. We perused the selection of rums for tasting. The top shelf was lined with Bacardi “8” which was produced in the Bahamas (It has been widely known that Bacardi is to close that facility in the Spring of this year. Rumelier’s contacts have indicated that it is already shuttered.). Rumelier looked over and said, “How about an 8 on the rocks for breakfast?” A man after my own heart…so we had one….or three… The bartender was engaging and knowledgeable.
We then got the call that our VIP tour was ready. We were driven over to the visitor center in a golf cart type buggy. Our guide Michael greeted us at the curb. He spoke perfect English with a New York accent. The entry foyer is lined with ceramic tile murals depicting the importance of sugar cane, molasses and rum in Puerto Rican history. We were then seated in a wide screen movie theatre for a short film on the history of Bacardi featuring a number of past Master Distillers. We were then lead into a small replication of a pot still distillery replete with sound effects. This lead into a reproduction of an old Bacardi director’s office with many old documents and old bottles of rum on display. Hey Rumdog007…I got to see a number of those old bottles of Bacardi you have in your collection. We followed into a “sensory” room where little barrels of products ranging from raw materials to finished rum can be nosed. Then whisked into a show bar styled after an old private club setting. The bartender delivered a wonderfully choreographed demonstration on how to make three classic rum drinks. The Cuba Libre, the Mojito and the Daiquiri. It was like having the actor James Earl Jones tutoring you on cocktail making.
The last room before exiting was the “interactive room” where Rumelier was seen sending out an email.
We walked out into the warm sun and fresh trades which were coming on a slant from the Northeast and were driven over to the entrance of “The Cathedral” which houses the distilling facility.
We were not shown the “back rooms”, but our guide Michael lead us up to the roof top terrace where we were able to get a birds eye view of the 126 acre facility and a peek at the GIANT five column still at the rear of the building.
As our tour came to an end our guide brought us to the gift shop where one can stock up on all things Bacardi.
A wonderful unhurried tour with excellent service from start to finish. This is a worthwhile tour if for no other reason than to get a feel for what a family has done in becoming a worldwide leader in rum production.
One always learns something when touring with others who have the same passion. An interesting point I had never learned before is that by law, aged Puerto Rican rum cannot be “topped off” in the barrel with younger rum. This distinctive point was brought up at the Barrilito tour and was again confirmed at the Bacardi tour.
Federico invited us to lunch, with no arguments. His Restaurant/Rum bar “Cana” is undergoing a remodeling. So he brought us to “El Picoteo”, which is an authentic Spanish tapas bar located in Hotel El Convento in the heart of Old San Juan. Federico ordered, we ate and drank. Tremendously good food and service.
The day did not end there. Federico was off to pick up his daughter from school…and the Serralles museum was still ahead for the Rumelier and me.
What a heady day for me. In my twelve years of living here I had never visited Barrilito or Bacardi. To do so in the company of Federico and Rumelier was special indeed.
Age, culture or languages are not boundaries when one has a glass of rum in hand.