Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Spencer Jones
A Trip to Puerto Rico Elevated my Rum-Drinking Experience
Aside from the odd piña colada, I don’t drink much rum. However, my visit to Puerto Rico encouraged me to pay attention to this versatile kind of liquor.
I imbibed in a variety of contexts and settings. My itinerary was anchored in Old San Juan with stops in nearby Caguas and Jayuya. These three don’t have much in common visually, but they share a certain warmth that transcends the tropical climate.
That warmth is found in the Puerto Rican people. It’s imbued in the cuisine, and the infectious music streaming out of every bar and restaurant. Whether you’re relaxing in your hotel room or painting the town red, rum is the perfect companion.
Old San Juan – Where Past and Present Collide
Old San Juan is a curious juxtaposition of old and new. The cobblestone streets are flanked by Spanish colonial buildings. San Juan Bautista Cathedral is in the middle of town. On the coast, the fortress of San Felipe del Morro cuts an imposing figure. It’s easy to forget you’re in the modern era until you encounter the colorful murals, designer shops and cars slowly weaving past.
If you want to “sip and walk,” book a tour with Flavors Food Tours. My guide took me to three iconic haunts. I had a “Rum Sunset” at Mezzanine, the former headquarters of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. At El Batey, the bartender made me a tamarind-based drink called “La Loma.” Finally, at La Cubanita, I enjoyed the “Mike Billions” cocktail. Its reddish-pink color doesn’t come from fruit, but hibiscus petals.
The drinks were great, but the historical tidbits were equally rewarding. In Plaza San Jose, there’s a statue of Juan Ponce de León, the first colonial governor of Puerto Rico. According to my guide, the statue is tilted because it’s been pulled down so many times. My research concluded that the statue was pulled down once to protest the visit of the Spanish king last year.
Across the bay from Old San Juan, is the Bacardi House. The brand is popular in Puerto Rico, but its origins are Cuban. I had several of the Bacardi rums — straight and in cocktail form.
Rum, Cigars and Chocolates In Caguas
Caguas showed me that cigars and chocolates play nicely with rum.
Puerto Rico’s first inhabitants, the Tainos, praised tobacco for its medicinal and spiritual benefits. La Hoja Del Chan, a family-owned cigar company, regards it with similar reverence.
The founder imparted the science of rum and cigar pairing. He also showed me how he makes his products by hand. I’m not much of a smoker, but I admired the craftsmanship. Aside from selling cigars, La Hoja Del Chan can do live cigar rolling at any special event.
Another gem in the area, Montadero, crafts artisan chocolates. I was told to take a small bite of one chocolate, let it sit on my tongue and swallow it with rum. The sweetness of the chocolate softened the harsh notes of the liquor.
Jayuya – The “Bellybutton” of Puerto Rico
My stay concluded in Jayuya, the most mountainous region on the island. The coffee is excellent and the views were as well. Thanks to La Destilería Craft Spirits, there was just enough time to squeeze in a final rum tasting.
Set against the rainforest, this is the first certified craft distillery in Puerto Rico. It produces award-winning rums on a more intimate scale. I’m personally a fan of the Bohique Spiced Rum and wouldn’t want to mix it with anything else.
At this distillery, you can learn the ins and outs of rum creation or just dive into the tasting. If you go, keep an eye out for Tobi, the furry chief of operations.