If the united nations of rum are concentrated in the Caribbean region, then it’s safe to say that the capital of this sugarcane-based beverage is the island of Puerto Rico. A stalwart of the island’s economy since the 16th century, Puerto Rico produces today approximately 70% of the rum consumed in the United States and boasts internationally recognized and celebrated brands that have garnered countless awards. Here’s an introductory ‘rumdown’:
Bacardi – Ask anyone to name a rum brand and chances are Bacardi will be the most frequent answer. This is hardly surprising, given that Bacardi is the world’s leading brand in sales. The brand’s product portfolio includes dozens of varieties, including spiced, flavored, light and aged rums. Founded in Cuba in 1862, Bacardi set up a distillery across the bay from Old San Juan in the municipality of Cataño in 1958. Affectionately known as ‘The Cathedral of Rum’, the Cataño distillery produces more than 80% of the Bacardi rum sold globally and offers tours to visitors.
Don Q (Destilería Serrallés) – Bacardi may lead worldwide rum sales, but many Puerto Ricans swear by Don Q, the island’s top-selling brand. Produced in Ponce by the Serrallés Distillery, the white, apt-for-cocktails Cristal is Don Q’s flagship variety, though Gold (aged three to five years), Añejo (aged three to seven years) and Gran Añejo (premium rum aged three to 12 years) are more suitable to drink straight. Don Q also comes in lime, passion fruit, coconut and lime & mint flavored varieties. Serrallés also produces the Palo Viejo, Granado, Llave and Rico brands of rum.
Ron del Barrilito – A notch or two below Bacardi and Don Q in terms of brand recognition, many Puerto Ricans will argue that Ron del Barrilito is the island’s best-kept secret. Produced in limited amounts by Edmundo B. Fernández, Inc., this rum more than makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. The amber-toned spirit is available in Two Star (aged up to three years) and Three Star (aged six to 10 years) varieties.
The versatility of rum lends itself to numerous cocktails and reinventions, and two drinks in particular stand out in Puerto Rico:
Piña colada – From an inspired 1960s bartender to a swashbuckling 17th century pirate, stories (and legends) about the true origin of piña colada abound. But few dare dispute that this sweet and sassy cocktail is a Puerto Rican creation. Coconut cream, pineapple juice, crushed ice and white rum are all it takes to create Puerto Rico’s official concoction, which is found at restaurants, bars and clubs throughout the island.
Coquito – Think of it as Puerto Rico’s answer to eggnog. Coquito has become an island-favorite treat, particularly during Christmastime. Made with egg yolks, rum, coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, coquito started as a homemade treat but is now commercially produced and sold in local liquor retailers and supermarkets.