Bacardi is a family run company that has been doing things a very specific way for over 150 years. Bacardi’s Chairman Facundo L. Bacardi, the great-grandson of Bacardi founder Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, represents the voice of a new generation for Bacardi. Facundo L. Bacardi became Chariman of Bacardi in 2005 after being promoted from the Director position, a post he held since 1993. Turning the ship of such a massive company like Bacardi has been no easy task, but over the past few years Faccndo L. Bacardi has helped initiate some major personnel and business changes that are just now beginning to show up in the marketplace.
This past year, Bacardi showed a renewed commitment to the growing American Craft Cocktail movement by hiring the highly acclaimed Brand Ambassador Jacob Briars, as well as a team of on-the-ground support in the US Market, including such luminaries as Patricia Richards (formerly the Beverage Director for Wynn in Las Vegas) and Jennifer Contraveos (who served as Angostura’s Brand Ambassador). Bacardi has also significantly raised the profile of its Bacardi Legacy Competition as well as re-embraced its Cuban heritage with a vast change in its advertising strategy.
No move has shown Bacardi’s commitment to a change in direction more than the new Facundo Bacardi Rum Collection. This collection of four premium sipping rums is the result of a fairly fierce battle between Facundo L. Bacardi and some of the other members of the Bacardi family over opening up and dipping into the company’s private rum reserve. The Facundo Bacardi Collection isn’t just a key move for Bacardi, it represents a major landmark move for the entire emerging category of premium rum. The Facundo Bacardi collection includes four entries spanning a range of $45-$250 a bottle as well as a wide range of styles and flavor experiences.
Facundo NEO Silver Rum (40% ABV / 80 proof, $45) – Bacardi’s premium rum collection starts with a white rum that is really a blend of aged rums 1-8 years in age and then charcoal filtered to become clear. Bacardi was a pioneer in charcaol filtering and so it’s no surprise to see them take it to the next level with NEO. The challenge in filtering the color from an aged spirit is maintaining the aromas, flavor, and character from the original spirit. From the nose, it’s clear that Bacardi has worked some real magic on NEO. To make their rums, Bacardi blends two different kinds of distillate: one lower proof, flavor packed spirit called aguadente, and a more neutral, high proof spirit called redistillado (read a more in depth explanation of all this in our Behind The Scenes of Bacardi article). NEO’s nose is as close to smelling pure aguadente as you’ll ever get with a Bacardi Rum.
NEO’s nose has many of the classic molasses-based spirit notes including marshmallow, vanilla, brown sugar, banana, and molasses, but it also has aromas from the aging process including oak, dried apricot, green apple, and black pepper. The entry for NEO is as flavorful as the nose with vanilla, green apple, and almond leading the charge backed by a combination of charred banana, oak, and pepper spice. There’s something almost tequila-like about how NEO’s green apple notes combine with the charred banana. The mouth feel of NEO, at the start, is soft and round which is a nice companion to the slightly sweet flavor notes, but everything changes in the midpalate where things lighten up and dry out considerably. The sweet notes from the entry drop to become supporting elements of the dry pepper and oak spice in the midpalate. The finish is very dry and focused on oak and pepper. NEO’s flavor experience is a complete pendulum swinging wildly from soft and round to spicy and dry. NEO’s swing is almost like a liquid tour through the greatest hits of Bacardi Rum, truly showcasing the complete dimensionality of flavor and style that they offer. No discussion of NEO would be complete without a nod to NEO’s bottle design. The NEO bottle doesn’t look like any rum bottle we’ve ever seen and it’s one of the heaviest bottles of its kind. The bottle also has a metal enclosure which completes the package.
Bacardi has done a fantastic job of delivering a unique silver premium rum that riffs on the classic Bacardi rum flavors in a way that Bacardi fans have never experienced. NEO pushes at the innovation front as an aged but filtered rum, and helps establish some new head space in the silver premium rum category. NEO is the kind of rum that could bridge Bacardi Superior drinkers into exploring a wider range of rum, and begin to help people think of rum as something to sip instead of just tossing into a glass of Coke.
Facundo Eximo Rum (40% ABV / 80 proof, $60) – a lot of aged rums are a result of blending a number of different rums together after aging into a single, unified product. That product must state the youngest rum in the mix, but often there are small amounts of older rums to help add dimensionality and depth. Blending after aging gives a blender a great amount of ability to balance and shape the character of a rum. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to do this blending BEFORE a rum is aged, and that’s what Bacardi has done with Eximo. Eximo is a 10 year old rum which was blended before it was put into the barrel 10 years ago. In the mix are a few rums older than 10 years old (and were 1-2 years at the time of original blending), giving Eximo a total age range of 10 – 12 years.
The nose on Eximo is strong oak backed by vanilla, caramel, bananas foster, and bitter dark chocolate. The aromas in Eximo’s nose integrate amazingly with the sweeter notes layered in between varying levels of oak. The nose on Eximo also has a wonderful old bourbon-like quality to it, reminiscent of the character we’ve seen in 20 year old bourbons. Although the nose suggests bourbon, the entry proclaims RUM with vanilla, caramel, and toffee right there with the oak. What’s interesting about Eximo is that it presents more oak than spice, with flavors that can be described more as deep oak, dry oak, or smokey oak than oak spice. As with NEO, Eximo goes on a journey from sweet and round towards dry. The journey isn’t nearly as dramatic with Eximo, but the shift is quite pleasant. The midpalate of Eximo is all about oak, with the sweet vanilla and caramel notes from the entry combining with tobacco and slightly bitter dried raisin, interweaving with the oak notes with tight and impeccable integration. The midpalate is a sheer love letter to oak and presents a strong oak flavor in one of the most pleasant and satisfying ways we’ve seen.
The finish for the Facundo Eximo Rum is fantastic, slightly dry and incredibly long with bitter dark chocolate, vanilla, raisin, oak, and tobacco, flavors that continue to dance on the palate long after Eximo has come and gone. Eximo takes everything that Bacardi has accomplished with their 8 year rum and cranks it up to 11 (excuse the pun) in one of the most enchanting and alluring expressions of this style of rum we’ve had. As with NEO, Eximo helps solidify the emerging premium rum categories with an entry well worth every penny of its $60 price.
Facundo Exquisito Rum (40% ABV / 80 proof, $90) is a blend of rums aged between 7 and 23 years and finished for at least a month in sherry casks. The nose on Exquisito combines classic rum notes of vanilla and brown sugar with solid oak and dried cherry. Like the Eximo, Facundo Exquisito does a great job of integrating these aromas into a complex and well integrated nose. The entry is slightly softer than the nose, with vanilla and brown sugar notes leading the charge. These sweet and soft notes are quickly followed by an undercurrent of oak. This oak ramps up in the midpalate where it’s met with dried cherry, raisin, and sherry. One of the great things about Exquisito is that the initial sweet notes also intensify in the midpalate and help balance out the drier and spicier notes. Towards the end of the midpalate, Exquisito becomes a lot more spicy with the addition of black pepper, clove, and an additional smoky oak note. This spice helps define the finish which is quite long and slightly dry, showcasing smoky oak and vanilla with a touch of sherry.
Of all the rums in the Facundo collection, the Exquisito gives the most well rounded and complete flavor experience. The journey it takes from sweet and fruity to spicy is exquisite (excuse the pun), and it illustrates how a master rum blender can bring together two vastly different aged rums into a singular expression that rivals its individual parts. As with the other rums in the Facundo collection, Exquisito comes in a stunning package: gold leaf art deco illustration and adorned with a gold plated stopper. Bacardi has been recasting itself recently by re-embracing its Cuban heritage and Exquisito is a perfect example of that as it clearly harkens to the glory days of Bacardi in Cuba.
Facundo Paraiso XA Rum (40% ABV / 80 proof, $250) – Bacardi doesn’t disclose the complete mix of rums for Paraiso aside from saying “up to 23 years in age” with the ” highest concentration of the oldest and finest rums of the collection”, but with a hand numbered label and a decanter bearing the family seal, we’re confident that this is the rum that Facundo L. Bacardi had to fight the rest of his family so furiously to get released. The rum in Paraiso is blended and then rested in French cognac barrels which previously held XO cognac. Unlike the Eximo and Exquisito, the nose for Paraiso doesn’t scream oak. Instead it’s an unexpectedly subtle nose that requires quite a bit of digging through. Paraiso’s nose is a combination of vanilla, shortbread cookie, ginger, oak, cherry, and marzipan along with milk chocolate, salted caramel, and hazelnut. While both the Eximo and the Equisito have bourbon-like qualities to them, Paraiso does adopt a cognac-like nose where the aromas are very tightly integrated and challenging to single out.
The most noticeable thing about the entry for the Facundo Paraiso rum is the mouth feel. Bacardi has built its business blending together lighter and heavier style rums, and Paraiso is the apex of that blending style with a mouthfeel that’s nothing short of elegant. Where Eximo and Exquisito were quick to show off their oak, Paraiso is as restrained and subtle as its nose. The flavor notes in Paraiso are all so finely tuned to read at the same frequency, it’s like trying to pick out a single voice in a large chorus. The chorus of flavors include creamy milk chocolate, vanilla, marzipan, raisin, cherry, hazelnut, vanilla, salted caramel, and oak. Unlike most spirits we review, Paraiso doesn’t change dramatically from entry through midpalate; it presents itself from the start as a puzzle ready for your palate and brain to unravel, and then gives you time to do just that. Just before the finish, Paraiso does pick up some nice spice and subtle smoky oak, but the underlining sweet and fruit notes shift as well to perfectly balance them out. The finish is long, soft, and just as delightfully subtle as the rest of the flavor experience. We found ourselves still sifting through the flavors long after this rum had left our palates.
Facundo Paraiso Rum is a very special and unique rum that requires your complete attention to really appreciate. It would be quite easy to dismiss Paraiso’s subtle nature and overlook the things that really make it special, which include one of the finest and most exquisite integration of flavors we’ve seen in a rum. Paraiso isn’t just some dressed-up rum aimed at the high end consumer, it’s an absolute love letter from Chairman Facundo L. Bacardi, and Global Master Blender Manny Oliver, to Don Facundo Bacardí Massó. Paraiso is Bacardi in a glass and it sums up the sensibilities and style of this great rum company.
There are so many different ways Bacardi could have gone with their premium aged rum line (the project began with a selection of 200-300 possible rums), and where they ultimately went in is a clear declaration of what Bacardi is really capable of. The Facundo Bacardi Collection represents four distinct expressions of rum all which closely tie to Bacardi’s core style. While the collection is premium priced, Bacardi delivers a great deal for the money, and Facundo Paraiso easily matches some of the extremely high priced Single Malt Whisky releases we’ve seen in the market at a mere fraction of the cost. We hope that the Facundo Bacardi Collection is not only the beginning of a new chapter for Bacardi but the beginning of a real premium rum market with high quality rums.