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A Look at Barrilito – Pt. 1

Our tour of Puerto Rico’s rum scene continues in the little town of Bayamon at the aging and blending facility of Ron del Barrilito. 

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After a late night at the casino and rooftop bar of the Hotel El San Juan, we’re all feeling a little fragile.  We slowly load into the Rum Bus at 8am while Tropical Storm Emily shows us the true power of Mother Nature.  Again, we wind our way through the rush hour traffic of San Juan and inch toward the next stop on our Puerto Rican rum adventure, the Ron del Barrilito facility in Bayamon.

Ron del Barrilito is a small brand, but one with a lot of history.  The Fernandez family has owned the land where the facility is located for more than 200 years.  In the early 1800′s it served as a sugar plantation and small amounts of rum were being produced there from the very beginning.  Back then, rum was strictly made for their family and friends.  

In 1827 a large windmill was constructed on the property to assist in crushing juice from sugar cane, but it wasn’t until nearly 1880 that the Fernandez family imported a European still and “officially” entered the rum business.  Three generations of rum producing has passed and the brand is going strong, has been efficiently streamlined and focused on business.

Our hosts, Fernando and Manuel Fernandez, greet us through the heavy morning rain.  We say our pleasantries and they tell us more about their unique production process.  Today, all of their base rum is sourced from Bacardi and delivered to storage tanks at Barrilito in large tanker trucks.  It is then transferred to wooden vats where it is blended with 10 secret ingredients, allowed to aerate and transferred to 130 gallon sherry barrels.  Then it is allowed to rest in one of four large aging rooms for a minimum of two years.

Once the rum is aged properly it is blended precisely to either 2 Star or 3 Star specification and transferred to large stainless steel containers above their modest bottling line.  Like most of the operation at Barrilito, the bottling and packaging area is very simple and efficient.  A dated bottler and labeler are operated by a crew of two and the Fernandez brothers pitch in whenever necessary.  

On the day of our visit, boxes of 2 Star rum were being filled for a shipment that was due to be picked up later in the day.  The process was in strong contrast to some of the super-automated setups that we’ve seen, but we all agree that the human aspect of this line along with attention to detail could not be beat.

Tune in tomorrow for more details about our visit to Ron del Barrilito.  Hint: we get a chance to taste vintage rum directly out of the cask and discover whether the Freedom Barrel really exists.