Our tour continued back in one of the aging warehouses where we looked at barrels that dated back thirty, forty and sometimes even fifty years. We browsed the shelves and admired what was almost a museum of aged rum. It smelled wonderful.
Manuel gathered us around a fat barrel that sat confidently on the second level of the large wooden rack and asked us if we would like a sample. The date on this particular barrel was 1982 and we all shook our heads in agreement, we would absolutely love to try this 29 year old rum.
Two snifters appeared, a long cylindrical tube was inserted into the barrel and a healthy amount of rum was extracted and poured slowly into each glass. We each smelled the sweet aroma of this antique rum and then took a small sip – absoluetly wonderful. We agreed that they should bottle it, straight from the barrel, even if it was in small quantities.
As Tropical Storm Emily beat on the metal roof above, we sat there with our host, among the racks of aging barrels and enjoyed a 29 year old sample of Barrilito. A rum that few people have ever had the opportunity to try. It was one of the best drinking sessions I’ve ever been a part of.
Our time at Barrilito was drawing short when someone from our group asked Manuel about the Freedom Barrel. This is legend among the rum drinking community and either discussed with curiosity or skepticism. The lore is that a single barrel of Barrilito rum was filled by Fernando and Manuel’s father in 1942 and left to age until Puerto Rico gained independence. Upon that day, the barrel is to be brought to the town square of Bayamon and sampled by everyone who is there to celebrate.
I think our group was bit skeptical that such a barrel existed, but when asked, Manuel escorted us through a large metal doorway and into yet another aging room. This was where some of their oldest rum was resting. As we entered the room Manuel pointed to the very first barrel. It looked slightly different and more worn than the others with stains at every seam where the angels had surely gathered their share over the years. Tacked to the front was a piece of weathered paper. It read Nov 23, 1942. The Freedom Barrel exists! As for tasting it, well, we’ll have to wait for Puerto Rican independence.
We finally bid farewell to our new friends and braved the tropical weather outside. We came away with bellies full of good spirits, boxes of rum and tshirts, but more importantly, new knowledge and respect for the Barrilito brand and Fernandez family tradition of making rum. Thanks to the Fernandez brothers for a wonderful tour and a look into their very unique corner of Puerto Rican rum culture. Cheers, fellas!!