Puerto Rico is famous for many things but it is probably best known for producing some of the world’s finest rums. With that in mind, here’s a brief primer about everything you might want to know about rum (but were afraid to ask) including: cocktails, brands, history and culture.
I’m willing to bet most visitors to Puerto Rico come for the beaches, the weather, the historical sites and the natural wonders. But in the back of their minds they’re probably thinking “Hmm, I’ve heard they make some good rum down there on the island. I think I’ll try some when I’m there”. So, even though they don’t come exclusively FOR the spirit, it’s undoubtedly a persuasive attraction. And, really, who can blame them. Puerto Ricans do not take it for granted that they live on an island that produces high-quality product, we consume it without prejudice. It’s not a stretch to consider it an intrinsic part of our culture – and of the Caribbean’s as a whole – as much as wine is part of the French way of life, or vodka in Eastern Europe. Rum serves as a link to our past, both the mythical and the real; from the decks of pirate ships to the sugarcane fields of the centrales azucareras.
Although antecedents of rum production can be traced back to centuries before the European arrival into the New World, the beginnings of what we now know as rum are a direct effect of the colonization process of the Americas. The world-wide demand for sugar led to an expansion of the mono-culture of sugarcane all along the Caribbean islands and places like Brazil. Molasses, the by-product from the refinement of sugar, was so readily available it began to be fermented and distilled; thus, rum was born. Cheap and intoxicating, the spirit’s appeal was widespread, and what was once boot-legged and illegal became a money-making venture. By mid-19th century, the Bacardi company and the Serralles family were already producing high-quality rum and continue to do so to this day. If you find yourself in the southern city of Ponce, be sure to check out Castillo Serralles – a 20th century mansion that was the family home and now serves as a museum and cultural landmark.
So, now you know a bit about rum’s origins, it’s history. Now, you want to try some. The two most popular rums are made on the island: Bacardi – the world leader
in rum sales – has a plant in the city of Cataño, just across the bay from Old San Juan, that gives guests regular tours of the facilities (trust me, it’s a nice day trip if you can squeeze it into your schedule). In Old San Juan you can find Casa Don Q, a museum dedicated to the Serralles family and its flagship product, Ron Don Q – the island’s top-selling rum. Also, the Rums of Puerto Rico Tasting Bar, located in the same building, offers visitors a chance to try several cocktails made from the wide variety of products available. Try any combination of drinks from Cuba Libre, Piña Colada, Daiquiris, Mojitos and anything else you can think of, don’t be shy, the first drink is complimentary and it’s a fine way to learn what to order whenever you go to another bar. Though Bacardi and Don Q are the most popular potent potables, they are by no means the only ones available: Ron Barrilito (in two or three star varieties) is a classic gold rum perfect for sipping on the rocks or with a mixer, Palo Viejo and Ron Llave are also popular options.
Festivals, such as the Taste of Rum inaugural festival and competition, are a perfect way of relishing the pleasures of rum to the maximum. The Taste of Rum will be held during Memorial Day weekend at Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan and is a unique chance to experience everything the island has to offer: great food, great crowds, and, of course, great rum.