I just returned from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and am clamoring to return to this beautiful island of the Caribbean. It truly lived up to its billing of being called by locals as the “land of enchantment,” and I truly fell in love with its people, palm trees, and gorgeous beaches. In addition, I liked its “laid back” atmosphere, which I jokingly called “Puerto Rican time.” Turns out that unprompted I came up what even natives call it, and many residents got a chuckle out of this. However, this biggest laughs were at the Bacardi Factory Tour, which is the island’s most popular attraction. With their reputation for fine quality rum, its not much of a surprise, but I was a bit shocked by how much fun I did have on it.
As a “borderline alcoholic” on vacations and liquor factory tours, I have to say that this was the best one yet. It starts off innocently enough, as a bus drives you around the grounds of the Bacardi property. There you can see the corporate office, the exterior of the distillery, and land loaded with lush greens and what appears to be forests of palm trees. Its truly a beautiful place, an while you don’t get to go inside the distillery, you do get to go to a visitors center that is well designed, carries a lot of artifacts, and has outstanding guides. Some may be disappointed by this approach, as some Scotch whiskey and beer tours allowed a complete picture, but I was more than happy about what I learned about rum production and this company’s extensive history.
The guides are really funny. Expect for them to “mess with you a bit,” and they do a fine job of explaining the Bacardi Family’s history, and how they’ve been able to build a rum empire after so many catastrophes. Its a true story of resilience, and due to the family’s refusal to never give up, I’m even happier to consume their products. One could say its another excuse to have more of their rum. You start out seeing the “official bat statue”, and learn that the bat became the symbol due to it being considered good luck in Spain. I’m still not thrilled by the actual animal, but the statue didn’t fly at least, causing thus no cause for alarm.
After seeing the “bat”, and a mural of what the Bacardi factory used to look like in Cuba, you go into a theater and learn a history of the company. Its an intense video presentation that lasts eight minutes, and the comfortable chairs allow you to enjoy the experience. The guide had us all laughing, because at the end of the movie, a party featuring Bacardi and beautiful dancing women is shown in commercial format. He thanked us for “watching his last birthday celebration.”
You do get to walk through rooms that are full of family artifacts, and I was enthralled by some of the letters from the late 1800’s. They are still in fine condition, completely readable, and show the Bacardi aggressiveness to expand their early marketing efforts. Another neat room was a whole bunch of barrels. The guides joked “no straws,” as there’s a bit of all kinds of Bacardi rums in each barrel. You shake them, and get to smell the wonderful scents from their varieties. The 1873 was my favorite, as it had hints of Scotch, and according to them is aged in oak barrels. I was tempted to bring out a straw. Here you get a look at what’s next, as the finale is an open bar outside, where I’m proud to admit getting “completely rocked.”
Go with a tour group, because you get two free vouchers for a Bacardi rum at this bar. If you go with older folks like I did, they will be likely to give you them, so you get a couple of extra drinks. You can select from their regular or light blends, or go with the watermelon rum, which became my favorite. The eight year was also delicious, and if you tip the bartender, he will be happy to give you another drink even if you are out of vouchers. To say the least, getting trashed at 9 in the morning was fun. The entire tour takes about an hour, and there’s a neat gift shop on site, where they sell a reserve rum normally not available along with hats, t-shirts, and a whole host of other merchandise. This is a must go to tour when in Puerto Rico, and I look forward to another visit, along with drinking their fantastic product.