Ron del Barrilito is one of Puerto Rico’s finest rums

Three years ago, my wife and I stayed for nearly a week at an Airbnb in San Juan, Puerto Rico. One of the most pressing decisions we faced upon arrival was what our house rum would be – the bottle we could sip from after hard days of doing nothing. We have settled in Ron del Barrilitoa mid-priced rum that locals love both to drink on its own and to mix into cocktails.

For me, someone with limited knowledge of rum, Barrilito was a revelation – every bit as complex and layered as a fine whisky, with a sweet, overpowering aroma. My wife and I brought some home and then we also started looking for some in local stores.

Barrilito enters two main types: two stars (3 to 5 years) and three stars (6 to 10 years). A four star variety available only at the Puerto Rico distillery can be aged for up to 20 years, while a five star bottle is under the age of 35. Both are beyond my price.

The history of rum dates back to 1880. It was at this time that Pedro Fernández started making rum on a family estate after studying chemical engineering in France, where he also discovered European spirits like cognac. He made special blends that he kept in small barrels…barrillitos in Spanish, hence the name.

The rum’s formula hasn’t changed since then, and for decades has been a favorite of Puerto Ricans.

“It has the reputation of being the rum of Puerto Rico,” explains Edouardo Bacardi, Barrilito’s sales and marketing director. “You can ask 100 bartenders, ‘What should I drink?’ Ninety-nine out of 100 will tell you “Ron del Barrilito. That’s their reference. It’s very much rooted in the history of Puerto Rico.

Barrilito has not always been widely available in the continental United States, but that has changed in recent years. The new owners have invested $12 million to build an attractive new visitor center and to help the distillery increase production, particularly with the aim of increasing the rum’s presence in American stores.

Bacardi calls Florida a “key” market for the distillery. In years past, Barrilito could be hard to find at chains like Total wine and more Where ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, but that seems to be changing. You should be able to find it on shelves in the Sarasota area.

The rum is made by master blender Luis Planas, who made rum in Puerto Rico for over 40 years old. “We wouldn’t be here without him,” Bacardi says. Planas blends the rum base with macerations of 25 different fruits and spices before the final blend is aged in oloroso sherry casks. “That’s where a lot of the sweetness comes from,” according to Bacardi.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the cheaper two-star Barrilito is good for cocktails, while three stars are better kept for sipping, but, in my experience, the distinction doesn’t matter much. Both are great alone or when mixed.

The Barrilito website offers a generous list of recipes. The “old fashioned Barrilito” or a classic corn and oil accentuates the flavor of the rum without overshadowing it. I think I’ll make one right away. It’s been three years since my wife and I returned from San Juan, and Barrilito is still our house rum.

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