Puerto Rico is called the “rum capital of the world” because of the long history of rum production on the island. Its rum distilleries produce large amounts of spirits for local consumption and export all over the world. This Caribbean island is responsible for more than 70% of the rum sold in the United States, which is consumed straight, over ice, or in mixed drinks like mojitos and pina coladas. So what makes the rums of Puerto Rico so special?
Rum has been an integral part of the Puerto Rican economy since the mid-1600s. Rum production began as a way for sugarcane plantation owners to use molasses waste. Throughout the 17th century, the rum industry grew and became a business of great tradition. Today, rum is a big part of the island’s history.
The process of creating Puerto Rican rum is fairly straightforward. Molasses is mixed with water and allowed to ferment. The fermented mixture is distilled using a continuous process to separate the alcohol from the rest of the concoction. The fresh distillate is aged for a minimum of one year in a white-oak barrel before it is bottled and sold to the masses.
Rum is so important to the economy of Puerto Rico that the island’s government created an organization to enforce laws to ensure that all rums under its umbrella meet high quality standards. This organization, founded in 1948 and aptly called Rums of Puerto Rico, issues a seal of quality to rums that meet its qualifications for high quality molasses, a continuous distillation process, and proper aging in a white-oak barrel. These standards ensure that the flavor and quality of the final product is superior to that of many other spirits.
Rum can be created in a variety of strengths and flavors. The most popular type is Light Rum, also known as Silver or White Rum, which is the preferred rum for cocktails and mixed drinks because of its subtle flavor. Gold or Amber Rum has a brown hue and a stronger flavor. Dark Rum is aged for years in barrels that are heavily charred, giving it a much stronger flavor and a strong molasses overtone.
There are five primary brands of rums overseen by Rums of Puerto Rico: Bacardi, Ron del Barrilito, Don Q, Palo Viejo, and Ron Llave. Bacardi, the world’s most popular rum, originated in Cuba in 1862 but has been made in Puerto Rico since 1936. The distillery, located across the bay from Old San Juan in Cataño, offers free tours for visitors to learn more about the company and its products.
Ron del Barrilito was the first rum brand established in Puerto Rico. Created in 1871 by Pedro F. Fernández, the brand sells a blend of rums that have been aged for six to 10 years in heavily charred barrels. This brand is highly esteemed and the company only produces 10 to 15 thousand cases per year, so it can be difficult to find outside of the island.
Don Q is the top-selling rum brand on the island and is made at the island’s second largest distillery. Established in 1865, the brand is named after the famous literary character Don Quixote and sells several varieties of rum aged from one and a half to five years. Palo Viejo is manufactured by the same distillery. While the distillery is not open to the public, visitors can learn about the history of sugarcane and rum during a guided tour of the Serrallés Castle Museum nearby.
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