“Puerto Ricans are the happiest people in the world, Enrique reported proudly, “We have over 20 celebrations during the year”. Parades, days off, and carnivals to rival anything anywhere in the world, he reckons. And doesn’t his smile prove it?
Enrique is one of the many artists on Puerto Rico, and he makes these stunning little sculptures of people dancing – how amazing is the movement in those little dresses. Of course I just HAD to have one!
I was on my way to the Bacardi distillery, a 50 cent ferry ride across the bay. Although Bacardi Rum was founded in Cuba (in 1862), after the revolution the Bacardi (the emphasis is on the “di”) family fled Cuba and ultimately established their main distillery in Puerto Rico where they continued to build the Bacardi empire. Although Bacardi has operations are all around the world, this distillery produces 85% of the world’s Bacardi Rum. I was pretty disappointed that the tour doesn’t actually take you to see the real distillery (they stopped doing this after 9/11), but instead shows you the history of the company, some actual and replicas of the original distilling equipment, and teaches you about the making of rum. Oh, and you also get free drinks at the end.
One thing people want to know is why the Bacardi symbol is a dead ugly bat. Apparently, Senora Bacardi saw that fruit bats would hang out next to the first distillery, and she wanted to make it the symbol of the rum to represent family unity, good fortune, and good health. Notwithstanding this, the bat is still ugly.
First comes fermentation – add molasses to yeast to convert to alcohol, a process that takes 24-30 hours. Next, it’s distillation, where the alcohol evaporates and condensates to form two different by-products: heavy-bodied and light-bodied alcohol. These then get blended, and the ageing process begins where the rum is stored in white oak barrels for 1 to 16 years. Right now, this distillery has 1 million barrels ageing, and produces 100,000 gallons of the stuff every day.
In case you are wondering, there WERE in fact pirates of the Caribbean, who were famous for drinking – wait for it – rum, except theirs was never distilled, so it burned on the way down!.
Our tour guide’s accent is so heavy, and she talks so fast, that I don’t hear her saying words to the effect of “Please wait outside for the train as you are not allowed to walk around the distillery unaccompanied.” So off I go and get picked up by two guys who inform me of this rule, and drive me to the visitor’s center even though I am only 50 metres away from it.
Bacardi informs us that they are the “No 1 premium spirit brand in the world”, although I have no idea what this means. There was, however, a court case where it was decided that if someone asks for a “Bacardi and coke” they MUST be given a Bacardi and not any other brand of rum. This is particularly so on Puerto Rico, which has 8 different brands of rum and where they regard Bacardi as a Cuban rum, even though it’s distilled here.
The most exclusive rum that Bacardi produces is the 16-year aged Premium Reserve, which you can’t buy outside the Caribbean, and which you don’t mix, but is closer to a cognac. Naturally, I buy one and avail myself of the engraving service to write “Time2Dance 2010” on the front of the bottle while I treat myself to a free drink.