Puerto Rico Rum Trip (1)

The Rumelier was asked if he wanted to go to Puerto Rico for a beer conference. That wasn't a really difficult question to answer. But right after answering it, his mind began thinking about all the rum attractions he may be able to visit while on the "Island of Enchantment" and close to San Juan, where he would be staying. He decided to extent his visit by one day to do some "rumming". 

After a little thought, he decided to enlist some local help in his quest to visit as many rum attractions in one day as possible. He contacted Federico Hernandez, organizer of the upcoming Rum Festival in Puerto Rico and owner of Caña Rum Bar and Restaurant. He also contacted Jim Ducharme, A.K.A. the Rum Runner from the Ministry of Rum, Rum Lovers Forum and a resident of Vieques Island. Both fellow rum lovers jumped at the idea of a day of rumming around San Juan and its suburbs. The tour was a go.

The formulated plan was to meet at The Rumelier's hotel for breakfast, then go over to Ron del Barrilito for a tour of their facility. This would be followed by a tour of the nearby Bacardi Rum Distillery and Casa Bacardi. After the Bacardi tour it would be into Old San Juan for some lunch followed by a quick visit to the Don Q Museum. Dinner in the evening would be at Cana Rum Bar and Restaurant (this was changed due to construction). Federico graciously agreed to be the driver for the day, this could turn out to be a perfect rum day.

Below are brief descriptions of the tours along with accompanying photographs.

Barrilito's Office, The Old Windmill est. 1827.
The "Office" was Closed During the Tour.
The Entrance to Ron del Barrilito in Bayamon, P.R.
A well hidden entrance could be easy to miss.

Ron del Barrilito Tour

After a light breakfast and much discussion about the noble spirit, the three rum amigos headed out towards the Ron del Barrilito facility in Bayamon, outside of San Juan, the tour had started. It was a fairly short journey on the busy roads of Puerto Rico, not your typical Caribbean Island traffic or roads.

The entrance to Ron del Barrilito is a well hidden small lane on the right hand side of the highway, that was blocked by a Police car. (Entrance sign shown above) After pursuading the Police to move over, it was on to the tour. The group passed by the family villa, the old windmill, (shown right) which now acts as the company offices, and the cooperage (shown below) then arrived at the entrance of the production facility.  Once inside the group managed to locate their host for the tour, Don Fernando Fernandez, President of Ron del Barrilito, and a third generation famiy owner. He was not difficult to find, as he was sitting at his desk on the open second floor of the offices, overlooking the blending and bottling plant.

After he made his way downstairs, greetings were exchanged and he proceeded with the brief tour. It must be remembered that no rum is distilled here, it is just aged, blended and bottled. The rum is aquired from their neigbours, Bacardi. Distilling rum was not restarted after prohibition.

After aquiring the keys to the aging warehouses and macerating area from the resident Customs Officer, the doors were unlocked and opened. This released an overpowering, very pleasant aroma of aging rum. All the group smiled and sighed as one.

Barrilito's Cooperage Warehouse.
The Master Cooper was on Vacation During The Rumelier's Visit.

Due to the fact that no rum is distilled here the rum production room is fairly small. It is filled with large, old wooden macerating tanks (shown below). Here the fresh rum is pumped into the tanks and then the ten secret ingredients are added to the rum. The blend of rum and ingredients is allowed to macerate with the help of air being pumped into the bottom of the large tanks. The ten secret ingredients are spread around the wall of this room, either in old sherry barrels or small stainless steel tanks. Don Fernando (pictured below) gave a description of the whole process. Much of the description was given in Spanish, so unfortunately The Rumelier missed several parts of the details. It however was very fascinating to see all the old equipment still being used for weighing and measuring the ingredients to get the time honoured secret recipe. This was a step back in time to how things were done more simply before mass production and computerization.

The Gracious Host of Barrilito "The Don".
Don Fernando Fernandez, President of Ron del Barrilito.

The rum production room is surrounded by four aging warehouses, where thousands of old sherry barrels slowly age the rum. The 132 gallon oak barrels are stacked four high in a sturdy racking system. The barrels are much larger than the old bourbon or whisky barrels normally used for aging rum in the Caribbean. The barrels used at Barrilito are imported from Spain at a cost of about $300 each. According to our former sommelier Jim, many of the sherry houses named on the barrels are no longer in existence. Once the barrels are situated on the racks, they remain there for many years until it is time to replace them, due to their size and weight it is not feasible to move them. The rum is pumped up to empty barrels and left to age for varying amounts of time depending on which bottling it is being used for. 

Macerating Tanks at Barrilito.
The secret ingredients are mixed with the rum from Bacardi in these large tanks.
One of the Ten Secret Ingredients in Barrilito Rum
Secret ingredient #6 in an old sherry barrel which are used for storing this aswell.

For safety reasons the group was not allowed to tour the aging warehouses, Don Fernando did not want a large barrel to fall off the rack on the groups head! The Rumelier however was allowed to sneak in to take a couple of photographs of the aging barrels (one shown below). For any rum lover this has to be one of the most pleasing sights, here the old oak barrels do their magic on the young rum. The rum is put into the barrel at about 87 proof, fairly low by most standards. This helps reduce evaporation during the long years of aging and means less for the angels

An Old Sherry Barrel Slowly Aging Barrilito Rum.
These former sherry barrels cost about $300 each to buy.
One of Four Barrilito Aging Warehouses.
Once the barrels are in position on the racks the rum is pumped in and out several years later.

Once the rum in a particular barrel is deemed ready for blending and bottling, it is pumped out of the barrel using a long hose and transferred to the stainless steel blending tank in another section of the facility. Here, after blending it is filtered and once again transfered to another large stainless steel tank and filtered again prior to bottling. The bottling machine had been with the company for decades. Don Fernando suggested the reason it had lasted so long, was due to good maintenance.
After bottling and labelling the bottles are stacked in empty cases for shipping by hand. The full cases are then stacked on pallets and moved to the storage area and bonded cages. There was three bonded areas. One for export, one for duty free and one for the local market.
The tour was basically at an end, all there was left to do was to purchase some rum, which was only sold as a three pack and buy some shirts and caps as souvenirs of the tour. This is something The Rumelier took full advantage of, especially at the greatly discounted prices.
Before leaving the facility the group gave their thanks to Don Fernando, especially for his patience at answering all the questions thrown in his direction by the three rum amigos.

Bottling Tanks.
The Rum has a final filtering from here before bottling.

Before finally leaving Ron del Barrilito the group took a quick stroll around the grounds. They passed the old windmill that was costructed in 1827, and was now being used as the company office, then passed the closed wooden building that was the cooperage. They then passed the family villa and into several old garages that housed many vintage vehicles, in varying states of repair. One was an old delivery van that had been beautifully restored to its original condition.

It was then time to leave this time capsule, that is lovingly kept alive by the Fernandez family. It was like taking a step back in time, to days of our past. A truly unique and very worthwhile experience for anybody, not just rum lovers.

Ron del Barrilito Bottles Await Packing.
All this operation is done by hand.

Ron del Barrilito Video Tour

For a tour of Ron del Barrilito click on this link:-


Casa Bacardi Tour

Right after the groups tour of the small family business of Ron del Barrilito it was off to the huge family run distillery at Bacardi. This was a complete contrast. The group drove past several aging warehouses before arriving at the entrance to the distillery. Once passing through security, and parking, the group arrived at the tour desk, which is situated underneath a huge bat shaped roof. Here each of the group was issued tickets to get free rum samples from the bar in the waiting area. The Rumelier had arranged  for a VIP tour of the facility and while this was being organised the group strolled up to the bar for some samples of Bacardi 8. The group exchanged conversation with the knowledgeable barman while waiting for their guide and golf-cart to arrive.

The Reception Area at the Bacardi Distillery.
Here you wait for your tour bus to arrive and get to sample rum cocktails.

 The groups guide arrived in a golf-cart and it was time to go on the tour of the Bacardi interpretation center. Once the group arrived inside they were given a fantastic tour by a very friendly knowledgeable guide. He was able to answer all the questions asked of him and described in full detail the Bacardi Family history, from their first steps in rum production in Cuba, right up to the present days of global domination.

After viewing some tile murals in the model of an old courtyard, it was into a large theater where an interesting film was shown about the history of the Bacardi Company. Many family members and workers spoke on the film. It was then off into a large room that was made out to look like an old distillery. It was full of old copper pot stills, oak vats, barrels and all the other equipment needed to produce rum. The sounds of an old distillery were piped through the hidden speakers, so you almost felt like you had taken a step back in time to Cuba.

The next stop on the tour was a mock-up of the original family office in Cuba. Here there were old documents, photographs, bottles, and most impressively some of the original medals awarded to the company many decades ago. It was here that one can get a sense of history of this amazing company. It was a story of innovation, forward thinking and in some cases survival. The company has come a long way from its warehouse full of bats in Cuba.

The Tour of Bacardi History Starts Here.
The Three Rum Amigos with Bacardi Cocktails.
Federico, Rum Runner and The Rumelier at the bar.

The small group then moved onto different parts of the tour that were interactive. Here you could learn more about how rum is produced, from the sugar cane to the finished rum. There was also a section where small wooden barrels had samples of different types of Bacardi rums inside them. You were encouraged to smell the aromas of these rums, this was very interesting, trying to guess the rum before looking at the label.

The Cathedral of Rum, Bacardi Distillery.
The view of the distillery from the roof is fantastic.

The final stop on this section of the tour was a mock up of a Cuban bar, as it would have been earlier in the twentieth century. On the back wall of the bar there was a huge selection of old Bacardi bottles from all over the world, many going back several decades.

Behind the bar the animated barman gave a lengthy demonstration of how to make the three most famous cocktails to be invented in Cuba. These were the Cuba Libre, the Mojito and last but not least the Daiquari. Unfortunately there were no samples to be consumed here, it was just a demonstration. 

The three rum amigos can be seen at the bar holding the three cocktails in a toast in the photo shown above.

Old Bacardi Barrels Stacked Outside a Warehouse.
This is looking down from the Cathedral of Rum.

After leaving the old bar behind, The Rumelier managed to send an e-mail home from one of several interactive computers that could record a small video and then e-mail it for you.

After leaving the building it was back into the golf cart and off to the large building known as "The Cathedral of Rum". here the group made their way to the top via stairs and an elevator. Once they had exited onto the roof of the building there were fantastic views of the distillery and all the way back to Old San Juan. Just as the group arrived on the roof a huge cruise ship was entering Old San Juan for docking.

The views over the bay to Old San Juan and El Morro Fort were amazing. Many photographs were taken of the views and of the distillery.

Right behind this large building was the main five column still, with a secondary still off in the distance. The group then moved to the other side of the building to view the several aging house off in the distance that they had passed on their way into the distillery. Then it was back down to the golf cart for their return journey to the visitor center. Here The Rumlier purchased some more shirts for his collection.

The Main 5 Column Continuous Still.
This is looking across from the roof of the Cathedral of Rum
The Secondary Column Still at Bacardi.
Aging Warehouses on the 124 Acre Bacardi Site.

Although you do not get to see inside the actual distillery, the tour is still very interesting. It gives you a good idea how rum used to be produced many years ago and is certainly a great way to learn more about the noble spirit, rum.

It was time for the group to leave and move onto Old San Juan for some much needed lunch and drinks. Being around so much rum was making the group thirsty.

Casa Don Q Entrance, Old San Juan.
This is the old Bacardi Office Building.

Don Q Museum
After the rigors of two rum tours Federico decided he would take the group for some lunch in Old San Juan. He decided to take them to "El Picoteo" in the "Hotel el Convento", right next to one of his own restaurants "Caña" ( Link For a tour of Caña ), which was closed at the time for rennovation. Large portions of food and rum were consumed before the next step in the tour, the Don Q museum.
The Seralles Don Q Museum is situated in the old Bacardi offices, right next to the cruise ship terminal in Old San Juan.
Federico had had to leave the group to pick up his daughter and had dropped the remaining two rum amigos near the museum. The Rumelier and Rum Runner gave their thanks to Federico, especially for the great lunch and being their guide for the day.
Here they joined the large number of tourists who had just come off the large cruise ship, seen from the roof of the Cathedral of Rum at the Bacardi Distillery earlier in the day. It was a short walk to the small Don Q museum.
Once passing the security guard the first item in the museum you come across is an old copper pot still, once used by the company.  After this there are many photographs are artifacts to be seen from the company. One of the most interesting displays was an oak barrel that had been disected into two parts. One half had been charred and one had not, showing the great contrast in the two. It is the charring that gives aged rums much of their flavours.
After the brief tour it was time to buy some more shirts and sample some more rum. This time the two rum amigos started with a glass of Don Q Añejo, followed by a glass of Don Q Gold. Unfortunately the Grand Añejo was not available for sampling.
This was not to be the last stop in Old San Juan, there was one more rum attraction to see, that Federico had told the group about. it was the Rums of Puerto Rico sampling bar in the Tourism Department Offices. This was just around the corner from the Don Q museum. Unfortunately the sampling bar was closed, probably due to the large number of tourists coming off the cruise ships. This will be added to the itinerary for the next trip to San Juan.
Here was where The Rumelier and Rum Runner had to part company, so that Rum Runner could catch his short flight back to Vieques Islands. It had been a great day with a very knowledgeable rum lover. Hopefully they will get to do it all over again soon.

An Old Copper Still from Seralles.
This is the main attraction in the small museum.
The Rums of Puerto Rico Sampling Bar.

Koco Restaurant and Rum Bar

After The Rumelier headed back to his hotel, it was a quick clean up and down to one of the pool bars to relax with a couple or so Cuba Libres. Unfortunately the heavens decided to open and he had to seek shelter at the bar!!

This particular bar closed fairly early, so The Rumelier went to get ready for the last leg of the rum tour. This was dinner at "Koco Restaurant and Rum Bar", that was situated next to the Casino in the El San Juan Hotel.

After being taken to his seat in the dark restaurant, he was handed a list of cocktails, many with rum. He decided on a "Dark and Stormy", the national drink of Bermuda. This was followed by some fresh red Snapper for dinner.

After he had finished his dinner it was time for some premium rum. The Rumelier had seen a rum menu at the entrance to the restaurant and enquired if he could see this. It duly arrived. There was about twenty to twenty five premium rums listed on the menu, from a variety of countries. Unfortunately there were many spelling and factual mistakes on the menu, this however did not effect the taste of the rum. Montecristo on the rocks was the rum of choice, along with a cup of coffee. When The Rumelier asked for if he could have another glass of rum, he actually wanted to try something else, but another glass of Montecristo appeared.

Oh well, he thought, it could be worse. When he asked if he could take a copy of the rum menu with him, he was told that they would e-mail it to him. Of course he is still waiting for this top-secret menu to arrive. He then decided to retire to the hotel lobby bar for one last drink before having an early night. The rum of choice this time was Don Q Grand Añejo, a true Puerto Rican classic and a great way to end a perfect rum day.

Koco Restaurant and Rum Bar, San Juan.

Rum Pilot Plant, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
( collection)

Rum Pilot Plant ,San Juan,Puerto Rico.

This photo shows the fermentation room where fermentation is done in plant scale. Fermentation of molasses is done here with yeasts to produce alcohol which is distilled later on. Emloyee is taking sample from tank to make a Brix grade analysis which determines the fermentation level.(July 1st 1960)