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MIAMI, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Bacardi, long known for its low-priced, white rums to mix with cola or fruit juices during the hot summer months, is launching a limited edition line of high-end rums culled from the family's century-old private stock in the hope of changing the world's perception of its flagship spirit.
Bermuda-based Bacardi Limited, owns 200 spirit labels, including Bombay Sapphire gin and Grey Goose vodka. This month it began distributing 12,000 bottles of the sipping rums, some aged up to 23 years, in New York and Miami.
Unlike Bacardi's ubiquitous $15-per-bottle rums, the four in the Facundo Collection, named for Bacardi's founder and family patriarch Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, are meant to be served neat, with a splash of water or an ice cube.
"We have about 300 rums in our family's private reserve," said Facundo L. Bacardi, chairman of Bacardi Limited and the founder's great-great-grandson. "We've experimented with them for 150 years in a variety of different ways, but no one thought about commercializing them."
The Facundo collection includes four varieties, varying from Neo, an up to 8-year-old clear rum that sells for $45 a bottle, to the top-of-the-line rum - Paraiso - which is aged up to 23 years in White Oak barrels, emerging as a deep amber color and retailing for $250.
Stepping even further away from Bacardi's mostly commonly known rums, each comes in a heavy glass bottle adorned with images reminiscent of Bacardi's long history, including its signature bat logo or a glass relief of Havana's landmark Bacardi Building, the company's former Art Deco headquarters which was seized by the Castro regime in 1960.
The darker rums are "a step above what we associate with Bacardi," said Ed Hamilton, a Chicago-based rum importer and industry consultant. "Historically, Bacardi has neglected their aged rums while concentrating on their younger white and gold rums, which are the best-selling rums in the world."
The high-priced rums are not Bacardi's first foray into high-end aged rum, though whether they will shift the perception of Bacardi as a purveyor of party spirits to one of refinement remains to be seen.
The company distributes an $85, 12-year-old rum called Reserva Limitada sold only in Puerto Rico, where it operates a large distillery.
To celebrate the family's 150th anniversary the company released 400 bottles of a 20-year-old rum called Ron Bacardi de Maestros Vintage MMXII priced at $2,000 each.
Rum making begins with sugar cane juice, or more commonly molasses, the dark byproduct of sugar production. Yeast, added to a mixture of molasses and water, converts the sugar in the molasses to alcohol, which is then distilled into rum.
Modern rum production in the Caribbean developed as a result of sugar production in the mid 17th century.
The Facundo collection rums are created by blending different varieties of aged rums and aging them again in barrel made of Sherry or White Oak.
Bacardi began on Feb. 4, 1862 in Havana when Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, who emigrated from Spain in 1830, opened the first distillery.
With the rising popularity of craft spirits in the United States, Bacardi's Brand Managing Director Toby Whitmoyer said the time is ripe to introduce drinkers to a higher-end product.
"With the Facundo collection we've taken on the responsibility to show them the way, and raise the bar so that more people can discover these rums," he said.
The popularity of aged rum in the U.S. has been building over the last decade.
"Bacardi is realizing that what it produced before was a mixing rum," according to Gabriel Orta who runs The Broken Shaker, a high-end bar with a speakeasy atmosphere on Miami Beach. "They see all these great bourbons and gins where manufacturers aren't cutting corners and I think they want to be a part of that." (Additional reporting by David Adams)