Across the harbor from Old San Juan Bacardi keeps churning out the rum, el ron. And tourists by the boatload (cruise ship and ferry) come to imbibe.
The manufacturing headquarters has been known since its opening as the Cathedral of Rum, so named by the governor who came to celebrate the day back in the 1950s.
While 100,000 gallons of rum is being produced inside, tourists come to Casa Bacardi (must be 21 or over to go to this link) to learn a little history and see the largest distillery in the world. Once free, the tour now costs $12 a person.
So what does your $12 get you? A tram ride around the carefully landscaped property where you can view the lovely facades of the distillery’s buildings, a 10-minute film outlining the Bacardi family’s pretty fascinating rum history, a short visit inside a recreation of the original Bacardi distillery back in old Santiago, Cuba, where this story began in 1862, a rum punch or Cuba Libre in the pavilion and a souvenir cup. You’ll also learn the answer to that age-old question: What’s a bat doing in the Bacardi trademark? In short, a glorified 45-minute advertisement.
If that only leaves you thirsting for more, you’re going to want to upgrade the tour. For $35, visitors can add a second tour that takes you inside the actual factory building — long enough to smell the molasses aromas that sweeten the air. You won’t see any boiling liquids, or any fermenting or distilling, no bottles getting filled or labels pasted on. (In fact, Bacardi doesn’t bottle here.) You do get an elevator ride to a porch overlooking the factory with a great view of San Juan and its marvelous El Morro fortress. I was fascinated watching two cruise ships sail into the harbor.
The best part is the second part of the upgraded tour. You have two options: a tasting of their premium rum or a mixology class to learn how to mix a proper daiquiri, Cuba Libre and mojito. I know what rum tastes like; so we opted for the mixology class. We slapped around a little mint (really: don’t tear, shred it or otherwise muddle it), muddled some limes and poured three perfect drinks. If we weren’t happy when we started the over-too-soon class, we were beaming as we left. We knew how to make a few new drinks and we’d had fun during our studies.
A couple of other notes: you can buy food to go with that rum drink and you can buy rum and plenty of other souvenirs in the shop, once you get through your tour. Plan to make at least a half day of it. We spent more than three hours on the property.
Getting to Bacardi is pretty easy. Take the ferry from Pier 2 in Old San Juan (Just look for all the cruise ships and you’ll know you’re getting close). We took a cab from the ferry to the visitor center but walking is an option if you’re in good shoes. The taxi cost $12 and the cabdrivers are happy to fill up their vehicles so people can share the cost.
© Text and photos
Mary K. Tilghman