Industry News

How Spirit Companies are Aiding Disaster Relief

Hurricanes Irma and Maria extolled almost unimaginable damage and heartache, but several spirits companies are doing what they can to help.
Casa Bacardi is the second-most visited tourist destination in San Juan, PR. The visitor center reopened its doors this November after Hurricane Maria.
Casa Bacardi is the second-most visited tourist destination in San Juan, PR. The visitor center recently reopened its doors this November after Hurricane Maria.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria extolled almost unimaginable damage and heartache to residents in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, along with so many other impacted places, but several spirits companies are doing what they can to help — including sending both money and aid.

In recent weeks, Beam Suntory, its brands, and its parent company have provided more than $2 million in cash and in-kind support for disaster relief in the U.S., USVI and Mexico, including: $1 million to the American Red Cross for hurricane relief, $500,000 to the Community Foundation for the Virgin Islands, $100,000 to employee assistance funds established by distributor partners, cash donations to relief organizations including the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program and Operation BBQ Relief, proceeds from the sales of remaining bottles of Booker’s Rye (the 2017 Whisky Bible’s “World Whisky of the Year”) donated to hurricane relief, dollar-for-dollar company match of eligible employee donations to relief agencies, and $200,000 to the Mexican Red Cross for earthquake relief.

Beam Suntory isn’t the only spirits company or brand sponsoring hurricane relief and sending much-needed funds to devastated regions.

Diageo has pledged $1 million in relief and recovery efforts for communities affected in the U.S. Virgin Islands, home to its Captain Morgan rum brand. That money is on top of the already pledged $250,000 in hurricane relief support.


BACARDĺ rum and the Bacardi family committed $3 million in general disaster relief funds to local relief agencies supporting communities impacted in Florida, Puerto Rico, other islands in the Caribbean, The Bahamas, and Mexico. The company additionally committed $1.3 million to TIDAL's third annual benefit concert, TIDAL X Brooklyn, as a presenting sponsor. “Bacardi is proud to play a part in raising awareness and funding for the regions affected by these terrible disasters, including Puerto Rico, Florida and the Caribbean region — all homes to our family and company,” said Facundo L. Bacardi, company chairman, in a news release.

The devastation of the recent natural disasters strikes particularly close to Bacardi, a company spokeswoman says, since many impacted communities are considered home to its operations, offices, and employees. Besides Bacardi's rum’s operations in Puerto Rico, it's bottled in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Bacardi North America regional headquarters office is also located in South Florida. The company has offices and production facilities for its rum and tequila brands in Mexico, too. “While Bacardi no longer has facilities in The Bahamas, our donation serves as a testament to the people of The Bahamas, where the company produced its iconic rum for nearly 50 years,” the spokeswoman said.

By the middle of this month, tours of the Cruzan Rum Distillery in St. Croix should resume.

The main office of Cruzan Rum on the island of St. Croix. The main office of Cruzan Rum on the island of St. Croix.

This is highly significant since the distillery experienced hurricane damage — and devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and several other Caribbean islands — earlier this year. “Our first priority was to make the facility safe for employees to return to work, and then to resume rum production,” says a company spokeswoman.

Two weeks ago, the Cruzan Rum distillery restarted rum production, after having suspended operations for three weeks because of storm damage. During those three weeks, the distillery was able to complete critical repairs to get the distillery up and running again. Before the hurricane hit, the distillery had previously invested in establishing its own power generation facility, which also enabled the company to resume rum production.

To get the distillery’s production resumed safely, 35 restoration workers were airlifted in with equipment and supplies.

“Cruzan’s roots are wide and deep in the USVI, and Cruzan and the Beam Suntory family have been engaged from the start in support of our employees and neighbors in the territory during this incredibly challenging time,” said David Hunter, SVP of Global Supply Chain at Beam Suntory, the parent company of Cruzan Rum, in a news release. “Our first priority was to establish the safety and well-being of our employees and to help them get back on their feet.”

The distillery, which employs 63 people, reported that all of their employees were safe, but several of their homes suffered significant damage, and the company is actively helping them to repair their homes, especially critical repairs to their roofs. Cruzan Rum, in partnership with Diageo, also teamed up to ship a container of relief supplies, including 90 generators and drinking water.

Cruzan Rum estate is St. Croix’s last remaining historical rum distillery, dating back to 1760. Cruzan Rum estate is St. Croix’s last remaining historical rum distillery, dating back to 1760.

“Thanks to the courage, character and commitment of our Cruzan team, led by Master Distiller Gary Nelthropp, our people are looking ahead and helping contribute to the long-term recovery of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Hunter said.

Other spirits companies and brand ambassadors are continuing fundraising efforts on a more local level. The Balvenie Scotch brand has been hosting private screenings of their "Raw Craft" episodes with Anthony Bourdain, which include a guided tasting and Q&A with brand ambassadors. As of last week, these ambassadors have raised at least $2,000, with The Balvenie committing to match up to $5,000. The donations are going to directly support people affected by the recent hurricanes. The first screening was held in Houston, and the most recent screening was held last Monday in Tampa. “Every penny counts,” said a company spokeswoman.

Jeanette Hurt is the author of Drink Like a Woman and is an award-winning writer focused on spirits, food and travel.

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