I’ve always considered Bacardi to be a brand of spirits that works best in a cocktail: something to provide alcohol content and a smidge of flavor, but not really something to be savored and enjoyed on its own. But that’s the exact perception that this bottle of 8 year aged rum is trying to break — and the results were a bit surprising.
Don Facundo Bacardi Masso was born on October 14th, 1814 in Barcelona, Spain as the son of a bricklayer. While he was growing up, his older brothers left home and traveled to Cuba seeking a better life and found success opening a small mercantile shop in Santiago. In 1830, Facundo followed his brothers and started working in their store, saving up enough money to open his own shop just a few years later in 1843 and marry his wife Amalia.
Things went well initially — Facundo and Amalia had four children in Cuba before a massive earthquake and a cholera epidemic in 1852 killed two of his children and devastated the local economy. He moved the family back home to safety and upon returning to the island later, he found his business in shambles. Sugar was one of the primary industries on the island, and a slump in the price of sugar had kicked off a recession.
But where most people saw disaster, Facundo saw opportunity. Rum had long been considered a crude and low quality spirit, but with the price of sugar so dramatically low, there was an opening for someone to create a desirable rum product and make a fortune. And that’s what Facundo set out to do, enlisting the help of local José León Boutellier and finally settling on a process using a unique proprietary strain of yeast, charcoal filtration, and maturing the end result in oak barrels to create a superior tasting rum.
The first bottles of Bacardi rum were sold through Facundo’s brothers’ store (which was still standing after the earthquake), but soon the product was successful enough that on February 4th, 1862, he was able to purchase a distillery and start mass production. He not only emphasized the importance of a good product, but also good branding — his wife recommended using the fruit bats that inhabited the rafters of the distillery as their logo, and it has stuck ever since. Bats, in their culture, are a symbol of family, good fortune, and health.
Throughout the years, the Bacardi company has remained a privately owned business, passed down from one generation of the Bacardi family to the next.
Facundo retired in 1877 leaving the business to his son Emilio. The Bacardi family agitated in the 1880’s and 1890’s for Cuban independence, which twice saw Emilio imprisoned for his activities and running the business from jail. When independence was finally achieved with the help of the United States, the Cuba Libre and Daquiri cocktails were invented specifically with Bacardi rum. Emilio would eventually become the first democratically elected mayor of Santiago in the 1890s.
In the 1920’s, the company started to branch out, investing in a beer for the first time in 1927. In 1936, after prohibition ended in the US, they opened a distillery in Puerto Rico to service the American market. During the Cuban Revolution, the family had backed the rebels, but they resisted the rise of Castro and once the country had turned towards communism in 1965, they moved their headquarters to Bermuda.
Bacardi would merge in 1993 with the Italian Martini & Rossi beverage company to create the Bacardi-Martini group, which continued to branch out and acquire more brands. Today, the business produces everything from rum to tequila to scotch to cognac… and pretty much everything in between.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
This rum starts at their distillery in Puerto Rico where Bacardi uses blackstrap molasses (a viscous sugary liquid that’s the byproduct of sugar production) as the raw ingredients for its rum. Going back to its 1850s roots, this was the absolute cheapest sugar product available and remains a cheap source of distillate to this day. The molasses is added to a vat of water, and a strain of yeast that has been cultivated since the original batches in the 1860s is added to ferment the mixture and create alcohol.
From here, Bacardi uses a process they call “parallel distillation” to create their raw rum spirit — really, it’s just variations of a mass produced column distillation process that somewhat mimics the Cuban style of production. Half the liquid is distilled in one single run in a column still to produce what is called the “aguardiente” spirit. The other half processed through a series of column stills to produce a lighter “redestilado” spirit. Just like with the Cuban process, the flavorful aguardiente is mixed with the high proof but somewhat neutral redestilado to create the raw rum.
For the typical run of Bacardi rum, the spirits are usually shipped to Jacksonville, Florida for blending, aging, and bottling. However, this bottle seems to indicate that it may have been aged and bottled in Puerto Rico instead. Regardless of where it’s aged, the spirit is placed into previously-used, lightly-charred white oak whiskey barrels for a minimum of eight years (and up to 16 years), and the resulting barrels are blended together to create the desired flavor profile before being bottled and shipped for sale.
The form is distinctly different from their other bottles, with a short and squat posture compared to the tall bottle designs used for their other typical spirits. The body of the bottle is a round-walled cylinder that slopes smartly at the shoulder towards a relatively short neck and is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. The Bacardi logo is branded into the top of the stopper, which is a nice touch.
This bottle design gives a big hint at where Bacardi is trying to position this spirit in the market. It seems designed specifically so it doesn’t fit in the speed well of a bar, instead intended to be displayed on the back shelf alongside the higher priced spirits like bourbon and scotch.
The branding continues that higher market appearance and feeling, with the Bacardi brand name embossed in the glass of the bottle and a large Bacardi logo sticker as the largest element of the design. The only other component that sticks out is the band at the bottom, which is a small sticker with the legally required details. I appreciate that they went in a subtle direction with this branding, really letting the beautifully dark color of the rum shine through and be on display. It’s a good look.
There’s a rich and delicious aroma coming off the glass that you can smell from across the table, with significantly more aromas attributable to the barrel aging process. I’m picking up on the brown sugar and marshmallow tones that you’d normally expect from a rum, but mixed in there are also dried figs, apricots, raisins, vanilla, and baking spices making for a fruitcake-esque impression like you’d find in the “rancio” components from well aged cognac.
All of those aromas translate into the flavor, but not quite in the proportions I was expecting. The brown sugar, marshmallow, and vanilla components are the clearest and most immediately apparent as soon as you take a sip — and while the dried figs, apricots, and baking spices are all present, they are more like supporting characters in the cast rather than big players. The smooth sugary texture and flavor from the base spirit overpowers whatever spicy texture might have been added from the baking spices and lingers well into the finish.
Surprisingly, I think the addition of some ice actually does this spirit a favor. Usually, ice smooths out any roughness that is present, but this actually seems to do the opposite. There’s a bit more texture to the spirit now, which is probably a result of the sugary smoothness from the base rum spirit being toned down. Without that sugar to hide behind, what’s left is heavier on the maturation components resulting in a darker and richer version of this spirit.
There’s still some brown sugar front and center, but it has more saturation and more presence. There’s a darker tone to it, more like a slightly charred creme brulee covering rather than just raw sugar — including just a touch of bitterness. It has some character and depth that we didn’t see before, and the dried figs, apricots, and baking spice flavors almost turn this into a bourbon. It still retains that generally sweeter and lighter trademark rum characteristic, though, instead of an earthy or corn heavy note like you might expect from a whiskey.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Full disclosure: this isn’t the usual cocktail that we use for this test. Usually, I’ll make a Daquiri for the cocktail part our rum reviews — but the bottle specifically called out that this would work well in an Old Fashioned, and who am I to argue with the distiller? After all, really what we’re looking for here is how well this does in a classic style cocktail, and an Old Fashioned definitely fits that bill.
As soon as you take a sip, you’ll realize that this is almost like cheating.
What makes a good Old Fashioned is the combination of sweeter notes like caramel and brown sugar with some darker tones to provide a good balance for the angostura bitters. You are absolutely getting that here, with the heavy emphasis on sugary notes (brown sugar, marshmallow, and dried fruit) all playing their parts. The result is a delicious cocktail that has some complexity and depth to it, which is exactly what you want to see.
The sugary flavors here seem to be providing more than enough sweetness that you don’t actually need a sugar cube or any simple syrup. It works fine all on its own. In fact, if anything, I might suggest throwing in a cocktail cherry and orange peel as a garnish and calling it a day. That little extra fruit from the cocktail cherry is just the perfect accompaniment to the rest of the flavors and adds a tiny bit more depth that puts this over the top in my opinion.
Fizz (Dark and Stormy)
This is a really good example of the Dark & Stormy, especially for something that isn’t artificially spiced. A lot of what you’d normally see if in a version of this made with a dark rum or a spiced rum is from the additives, but in this case it’s just the oak barrels doing their thing.
I’m getting a lot of the same flavor profiles that I’d see with a good bourbon: the brown sugar, vanilla, and a bit of dried fruit balancing out the brighter and more cheerful ginger beer and lime juice. The difference is that instead of getting some black pepper spice on the finish (like with a high rye bourbon), it just mellows into a sugary sweetness that almost tastes like a Coca-Cola. I’m not mad — I practically live on the stuff — but it isn’t necessarily the unique texture that I’d like to see here.
This is a good sipping cocktail, but it could be better.
I didn’t come into this review with high expectations. Bacardi has always been a brand that I thought made for a fine mixer, but I hadn’t seen anything that really made me want to keep the bottle on the bar longer than it took to make the review. For me, this bottle was a game changer that really shows off what Bacardi can do and the real potential of their rum.
That said, there are a couple rough edges. The flavors aren’t quite as well-saturated as they could be, especially when taken neat. And there’s a touch of bitterness on ice that I’d prefer to skip in the future. It could use some refinement but as a cocktail spirit at this price point, I’d say it is a solid option.
|Bacardi Reserva Ocho Rare Gold Rum
Puerto Rico, United States
Aging: 8 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $27.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A surprisingly flavorful and rich rum that works best in a cocktail.