Puerto Rico has a unique and rich history, with the tropical climate giving the island a paradisiacal reputation. Like other destinations in the area, rum is a staple product. The U.S. territory’s oldest distillery, Ron del Barrilito, is still creating its one-of-a-kind rum line with methods from the late 19th century.
Ron del Barrilito was founded in 1880, making rum for more than 140 years. The distillery sits on the Hacienda Santa Ana estate in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. The estate was given to the Fernández family by the Spanish Crown about 100 years before the first batch of alcohol. The Fernández family still owns the company today.
Rum-making began in 1871 when Pedro Fernández returned to Bayamón after studying engineering in France. He was inspired by famous French businessmen like François Cartier and Édouard Michelin, inventors of some of the most notable luxury and everyday items. Fernández applied his education to the rum crafting process. By 1880, the formula and distillation process had been perfected.
Distillation involves storing the rum in Oloroso sherry barrels imported from Spain. Tasters note how it has a rich aroma of vanilla and caramel, along with touches of dried fruit and spices.
The name “barrilito” means “little barrel” in Spanish. It’s a homage to the casks the rum is served in. A star ranking system determines the strength of the flavor and how long it has been aged.
The Three Star blend came first, serving as the only formula for more than 50 years. In 1933, following the end of American Prohibition, Fernández launched the Two Stars blend, which is aged for less time and is better for everyday consumption, according to the company website.
In 2018, two new editions were unveiled — a Four Stars blend aged up to 20 years and a Five Stars version aged about 35 years. These still used the original process but mixed with older rums for a more refined flavor profile. 2019 would be a monumental year, as Hacienda Santa Ana’s Visitors Center opened, becoming a hot tourist destination.
The modern story of Ron del Barrilito involves policies that protect the natural beauty of Puerto Rico. Since spirit distillation is a water-heavy industry, the company harvests captured rainwater for a sustainable, eco-friendly water source. The water is filtered, stored in a cement tank, and used as needed. The tank can hold 43,000 gallons of water, and a pump outlet, sand filter, and a 5.0-micron lenticular filter eliminate all impurities.
The estate is home to many fruit trees, and the distillery operators ensure the fruits don’t go to waste. The staff maintains the trees yearly, harvesting ripe fruits and donating them to local shelters and charities.
“We look at our team as a family, and with so many of us being from the local area, we wanted to give back to our community in as many ways as possible,” states the Ron del Barrilito website.
Being such a storied institution, Ron del Barrilito doesn’t change much in its production. They still use the same formula and distillation methods from 1880. The most recent change made was going back to cork tops. Though the company originally used cork, plastic twist-offs became a popular alternative. However, like any plastic, it’s more harmful to the environment. Thus, the business switched back to cork tops, which are all-natural and more sustainable to create.
“We’ve always been a brand rooted in smooth, delicious sipping rum backed by an unchanged process, and we’re pleased to be able to bring yet another premium liquid to an exclusive subset of our audience through the Autobiografía Selección Exclusiva program,” Maggie Matias, chief commercial executive at Ron del Barrilito, said in a statement.
The program allows customers to buy Ron del Barrilito by the barrel. This custom is common in bourbon production, known as single cask programs. Customers can contact the distillery to purchase a barrel of the new Autobiografía Selección Exclusiva blend. The liquor will be bottled by hand, and there are many interested parties. According to the company, as of November 2022, one barrel has already been sold for $400,000.