Ian "Rum Ambassador" Burrell at "Taste of Rum"

Puerto Rico Rum Trip #3

The Rumelier was once again invited to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in March, 2010 to be a judge at "A Taste of Rum" rum festival. Below you will find the story of his latest adventures in and around Old San Juan, along with some photographs to illustrate the trip. This was the second year for this rum festival. Last years event was classed as a huge success by everyone involved. Organizer Federico Hernandez and all his sponsors did a fantastic job of organizing such an enjoyable event and everybody was looking forward to this years event with much anticipation.

Activities for the participating judges in the rum tasting competition began on their arrival in Old San Juan on the Friday night with a dinner and cocktails provided by Luis Trigo and Trigo Rums in the Cana Restaurant.

Cathedral at the Bacardi Distillery, Catano, P.R.

Bacardi Distillery VIP Tour
The judges for the rum tasting competition were all staying in the Casa Herencia Hotel in Old San Juan. The hotel is a charming old style hotel just down a narrow cobbled stoned street from the famous El Convento Hotel. On the Saturday morning the judges were treated to a hearty breakfast provided by the host of the competition Sean Jimenez Cadilla. After breakfast a select group of judges were taken by taxi through Old San Juan and around the Bay to visit the Bacardi Distillery in Catano.
This was The Rumelier's sixth visit to the distillery, but this tour can only be described as the best yet. This was due to the magnificent hosts for the tour of the distillery, David Cid and Charles Rodriguez. Both these men were an amazing wealth of knowledge, not only about Bacardi but all things rum, from the early production of rum right up to all the modern day techniques employed by the Bacardi company.
As normal, the tour started off at the sampling bar in the welcoming area, under the roof shaped like a large fruit bat, reminiscent of the Bacardi company logo. From here the small group of judges and their host Sean were joined by Bacardi employees David and Charles for their VIP tour. The group boarded one of the small trains for the short ride to the visitor center. Here the group was not only given the usual tour but were given much more insightful information about the Bacardi family from the company's early history in Cuba, right up to the present day. Both of the guides complemented each others depth of knowledge of all things rum and they also showed their passion and pride at being involved with the Bacardi family. The group of judges soaked up all the information being given them by their knowledgeable guides.

Sampling Bacardi in the Cathedral of Rum.

After the group had finished their informative tour of the visitor center they boarded the train again and were taken a short distance to the very impressive "Cathedral of Rum" (shown above). Here the group were given an in depth view and explanation of the fermentation process while standing above the huge fermentation tanks. Here the guides explained the importance of the yeast strain that the company uses for their rums fermentation. After this the group moved down a floor and were given an explanation of how the company processes its waste and generates its own power. This has been recently complemented with the installation of two huge wind turbine generators close to the visitor center's retail store. 
From here the group caught the elevator to the roof of the building. The roof provides a beautiful view over the Bay to Old San Juan and the Morro Fort and of course of the whole Bacardi Distillery, including the column stills and the many rum aging warehouses. After taking many photographs the group descended down to a lower floor to be given a tasting of three rums from the Bacardi portfolio (shown right). David Cid provided in depth details about the flavours to be found in each rum, which included their most premium rum Bacardi Reserva Limitada.

One of the many aging warehouses at Bacardi.

After the tasting had concluded it was back on the train so the group could be given a rare opportunity to visit the inside of one of the rum aging warehouses spread out around the distillery (one shown left). This was a special treat that not many people receive. Not only were the group allowed access to an aging warehouse they were allowed to sample some solera rum straight from the barrel. The rum was very strong as it is aged at overproof strength, but it proved extremely flavourable. This was a special treat that all the judges really appreciated as they all knew how rare this experience was.
After the sampling of the rum was completed it was back on the train for the conclusion of the tour, a stop at the retail store for some personal shopping, but the treats had not yet finished. After several of the group purchased some Bacardi souvenirs The Rumelier was introduced to the Retail Manager and all the group were presented with their personally engraved bottle of Bacardi Reserva Limitada to return back home with.
After the farewells and appreciations were given the group were escorted to a special Puerto Rican lunch at Don Tello restaurant right next door to the ferry terminal for Old San Juan, courtesy of the Bacardi Company. Right after the lunch and a few cocktails had been consumed, it was time to catch the ferry back across the Bay to Old San Juan, and walk up the cobbled stoned streets to return to the hotel to meet up with the other judges for the first rum tasting session of the competition. 

Bacardi Brand Ambassador Apprentice David Cid.

PRIRA Tasting
On the Saturday afternoon right after their return from the Bacardi Distillery it was down to business as it was time for all the judges to assemble at Casa Herencia for the second annual Puerto Rican International Rum Awards rum tasting. The awards were divided into various rum categories and further divided into Puerto Rican rums and International rums.
The judges were a combination of local rum experts from the various Puerto Rican rum companies, alongside several international rum experts and some local guest judges.
The group were to taste the rums in the dining room of the Casa Herencia Hotel. Each rum was to be tasted for various aspects, from aroma to the after taste. A unique creativity grade was also given on how each bottle is presented.

White Rums Waiting to be Tasted.

The categories for judging were, white rums, gold rums, anejo rums, extra old rums, flavoured rums, and ready to drink (RTD's) rums, all sub-divided into Puerto Rican rums and International rums.
Each rum was given a mark out of three for each judging category. After each group of rums were tasted blind the bottles were presented to the judges for their creativity grade. The favourite rums with the judges, as in most tasting were the anejo and extra old rums. In fact these popular categories were tasted a second time on Sunday morning just for pleasure of the judges.
The majority of the rums were tasted in this first session on Saturday afternoon. The remaining rums were left to be tasted on Sunday morning before the rum festival began.

After the first rum tasting session was completed the judges had a little free time before walking down the hill to the Don Q Museum, which is situated close to the cruise ship terminal in the harbour. In the museum the judges were treated to samples and cocktails of the various Don Q rums by their gracious host and fellow judge, Silvia Santiago. 

Inside the museum there are displays and artifacts showing the history of the Serralles Distillery and the associated sugar production of the company.  

After several cocktails the judges then returned up the hill for a dinner hosted by Silvia and Don Q Rums in the El Convento Hotel, where after dinner much Don Q Grand Anejo in its attractive new bottle was consumed by the group. 

"A Taste of Rum" Rum Festival

Rums of Puerto Rico Hostess.

The main attraction for this rum festival was "A Taste of Rum" that was held for the second year in a row at Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan. After a little free time the judges gathered together at Casa Herencia for the beautiful short walk around the old city walls and down to the the rum festival. On arrival at the festival they were issued with VIP passes for entry into the main event. 

Cooking With Ron del Barillito in the VIP Tent.

Once inside the designated area, right alongside the impressive and imposing old city walls the judges took a stroll around to see what rums, food and entertainment were available for the afternoon. They discovered numerous tents with rum companies or importers displaying their rums and serving up cocktail and samples. Alongside the rum tents there was also several restaurants serving all types of Puerto Rican foods.  

Sean, Federico, Ian and Miguel.

After their initial tour of the event many of the judges found their way into the VIP tent, where they could try the majority of the Puerto Rican rums on display, along with some great food straight from the grill. Much time was passed under the VIP tent as it was a good place to rendezvous after each tour of the festival.

Luis Trigo Serving Samples of his Rum.

There was much more to see and do than just drink rum and eat great food. There were flair bar tending competitions to watch, the standard of which was very high. Several bands played music throughout the days events. Inside an adjacent building there were lectures all about rum and its history. There were even local dance groups performing throughout the days events. There was no chance to get bored with the great line-up of events to keep everybody entertained.

Don Q Rums Hostess.

The Rumelier was lucky to have spent the afternoon with such knowledgeable rum experts and enthusiasts. He even got the chance to meet some new friends from several countries around the world who were attending the festival.
Another highlight was to taste the brand new Puerto Rican rum Pitorro (shown below by Rum Runner Jim).
Pitorro rums are made by a brand new company called Destileria Coqui, who are based on the west coast of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. The company owns five acres of farmland where they grow their own sugar cane. The homegrown sugar cane is crushed at their small distillery and the fresh cane juice is distilled twice in a small pot still. The rum is distilled to about 170 proof and charcoal filtered before being bottled at 100 proof. Their Blanco rum is complemented with a Frutas rum that includes fresh mangoes, papayas, carambolas and guavas.
Not only were the two bottles shown below available for sampling, but the hosts had several flavoured rums hidden under their table reserved for special guests. The Rumelier and Rum Runner Jim sampled several of these interestingly flavoured rums that were very well produced for such a small, new company.
Click on the link below to see a short video in Spanish of the newest and smallest legal distillery in Puerto Rico. Remember everybody has to start small!!

Destileria Coqui

The Latest Rum from Puerto Rico, Pitorro.

The second version of "A Taste of Rum" can once again be classed a s complete success. The crowds were large, the food was amazing and rum was always flowing. The company was special and The Rumelier has marked this down as a special day in his tours of the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico maybe be relatively small in size but it knows how to throw a party and most importantly they know how to enjoy the party. Hopefully there will be many more rum festivals in Puerto Rico in the years to come.

Rum Amigos by the Don Q Tent.

Serralles Distillery Tour
There was no rest for the wicked on this trip. The morning after the rum festival it was an early start for The Rumelier, Jim Ducharme and Rob V. Burr for a long drive to the Serralles Distillery in Ponce, on the south side of Puerto Rico. This indeed was another special treat that few people receive. The group's driver Jose picked the judges up from their hotel for the one and a half hour drive through the beautiful countryside and hills of Puerto Rico.
The group made good time and arrived at the distillery for their guided tour in what appeared to be no time at all. Once inside the distillery they were met by fellow judge Silvia Santiago along with Alberto Torruella. Alberto was to be the guide for this small group of VIP's. Alberto explained to the small group that Serralles does not usually conduct regular tours of their distillery and that this was a special tour set up for the rum festival judges only. He also explained that as the company was not set up for tours Health and Safety regulations meant all visitors had to be issued passes and wear safety helmets.

Serralles Distillery, Ponce.
The Newest Column Still at Serralles.

After visitor's passes were issued it was off to Alberto's office for a brief history of the distillery and a view of a large map of the entire plant. Then hard hats were donned and it was off on the tour on the back of two specially reserved golf carts.
Several areas of the distillery were shown to the group. Permission, as in most distillery tours, had to be gained before taking any photographs. One of the most impressive views was of the new multi-column still rising high above the rest of the distillery (pictured left). The Rumelier's favourite stops on any distillery tour are usually the cooperage and barrel emptying/filling stations. Unfortunately on the day of the tour it was a public holiday, so the cooperage was idle, but the company were still emptying and filling barrels of rum.

Sealing Recently Filled Oak Rum Barrels.

The cooperage and refilling stations were adjacent to each other. One benefit of this is that when barrels that are filled with rum start to leak they are rejected and sent back to the cooperage for repair. The used bourbon barrels used by Serralles come from Kentucky, and one can guess it will be exclusively from Jim Beam, as Serralles are the Puerto Rican bottler and distributor for Jim Beam Bourbon.
Bourbon barrels are normally pluged from the side and Serralles plugs the barrels from the top, so a new hole has to be drilled and fitted with a new plastic plug after the new barrels are filled. When older barrels are emptied the saw dust and any pieces of the charred barrel that have come loose from the inside of the barrel are filltered away from the rum. The rum is then stored for blending and bottling or for bulk shipping.

Inside a Serralles Aging Warehouse.

After seeing where the rum is filled and taken from the oak barrels it was off to see where the magic of aging takes place, an aging warehouse (pictured left). As in the previous Bacardi tour this was a very special treat for this small group of judges who were lucky enough to travel south to Ponce.

Once inside the huge warehouse the aroma of the slowly aging rum in the used bourbon barrels can only be described as rum heaven. It is hard to put into words the experience of standing in the middle of an aging warehouse and staring up at the row after row of rum barrles. Standing further away from the door the aroma became more intense on the nose. Each barrel is labelled so the age and date of production can easily be seen. There are tens of thousands of barrels slowing aging this Puerto Rican Rum in twelve warehouses that must be aged no less than one year for it to be considered authentic Puerto Rican Rum. Anybody who is passionate about rum cannot help being moved by this experience, no matter how many times who have seen it before, but unfortunately time was up and it was time to move onto a visit to the bottling plant.

Bottling Bottles of Don Q Limon.

Not only does Serralles produce nine different brands of rum it also produces a wide range of other products such as wines, cordials, gin and vodka. The company also distributes a number of imported products including scotch, whiskies, bourbons, gins, vodkas, wines, champagnes and cordials.
Once inside the noisy bottling plant it was explained that each of the several bottling lines are dedicated to a certain size and shape bottle. The company not only bottles all its own products but also several imported products. New technology is introduced all the time to the plant as the company continues to expand and modernize. A fact that some people may find interesting is that the bottles that are waiting to be filled are rinsed with rum to clean them as opposed to water. The reason for this is that water would upset the alcohol levels in the bottle if some remained behind, so rum is used for cleansing instead. Many of the bottles on each line are taken away for quality control and alcohol level testing before each batch is processed.  

Rob and Jim Blending Their Own Rum.

After exiting the bottling plant the group returned to the companies office complex for the final special surprise of the tour. Once inside the offices the small group of three judges was given an opportunity by Alberto to blend a small amount of some of their own rum. They were given three different types of rum, two light and one heavy, all were of different colours and aromas. They were also given a blending flask. It was what seemed a simple task to blend a rum of your choice using a random combination of all three rums, but this job requires a very experienced nose and often takes decades to master to finally become a master blender.

Of course all three judges were happy with their own blend of rum and were given a small bottle and label so that they may take their creation home with them. The Rumelier decided to call his rum "Ron Q Davies".  

Unfortunately this was the conclusion of yet another amazing tour of a Caribbean rum distillery. The Rumelier must thank Silvia, Alberto, Orlando, Jose, Roberto and Javier for a fantastic adventure to the south coast of Puerto Rico. Even though this was the end of the tour the group were treated to lunch and cocktails at the beautiful local Hilton Hotel and Golf Course in Ponce before returning to Old San Juan.

A Trailer used for Transporting Barrels of Rum.