You’ve heard it many times: Puerto Rico is the rum capital of the world. From the famous Bacardi factory to the convenient liquor shop La Enoteca, the island is home to several distilleries and cellars. By some estimates, 70 percent of all rum consumed around the planet comes from Puerto Rico, with several distilleries exporting the famous spirit. That’s why you didn’t think twice when friends invited you to go down to taste rum from the source. Is there anything better than sunbathing in a tropical paradise while sipping on exotic cocktails?
Centuries of rum-making have shaped the island’s rum-drinking culture, and today many distilleries offer tasting tours to visitors. You take a small ferry in Old San Juan and cross the San Juan Bay, a serene body of water framed by swanky Condado, the historic city, and the town of Cataño, where the Bacardi factory is found. You step off the boat and taxi drivers circle you offering a ride to the distillery, you pick the driver with the widest smile and hop in his van. After a quick drive, you arrive in Casa Bacardi, a landscaped property with a tall Art Deco building that makes a good first impression. Welcomed by an usher who takes you to the main saloon, it’s here where you have some fun with an interactive exhibit showing Bacardi’s origins. Then the tour gets even more interesting when Luis, the bartender, shows you how to make a Cuba Libre and a Mojito, both Bacardi original recipes. You sip on the drinks and as soon as you’re done, the tour moves to a bar for a free sample of your favorite rum cocktail. You go with a sweet concoction of orange rum, cream of coconut, orange, and pineapple juice. It’s called Morir Soñando, or “To Die Dreaming,” a drink from the Dominican Republic.
The rum tasting trip now takes you to the south side of the island, Ponce, for a stop at the Serrallés’ Castle, the former home of the family responsible for Don Q rum. Don Q is the most popular rum among locals, many using it exclusively to make drinks at parties and at home. The moorish-style mansion sits on El Vigia Hill overlooking the city of Ponce. Now inside, you make it your goal to explore every nook of the castle, discovering the original hand-crafted furniture, the expansive rooms, and family mementos. There’s an indoor patio and an entrance hall worthy of royalty, with exotic plants and elegant moldings. The exterior is just as impressive — large fountains dot the terraced gardens and a panoramic view takes your breath away. Before heading out, you sample various shades of rum, and the gold one becomes your favorite. You pick a few bottles of Don Q Gold to bring with you on the plane.
Next up is La Enoteca, a place where you try the best rums of the island and also savor international wines. You immediately feel comfortable in the space featuring exposed mahogany beams, cozy seating, and rows of renowned liquor labels. Here at La Enoteca you try local Ron del Barrilito, a couple of dark lagers, and finish off with a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, you pick a few bottles to take home with you. Before you leave paradise, you must make a final stop in Old San Juan; the centuries-old streets are calling you. Here you take the Boozy Bites Rum Tasting Tour, which takes you around the city tasting the best quality rums from the most famous distilleries. You sample Bacardi 8, Trigo Reserva Añeja, and Don Q Gran Añejo. They’re all different but robust, leaving a sweet after-taste that goes with many foods. As the tour guide explains the distillation process of each brand, you enjoy bourbon bacon brussels sprouts, mini turnovers, and black bean hummus. It’s the perfect finish to an unforgettable trip. And you have the rum as a souvenir to share it with others.