Puerto Rico is dubbed “˜rum capital of the world’, and while this is self-proclaimed, it is for good reason. As one of the world’s top rum producers, Puerto Rico provides the US with more than 70 per cent of its rum. Hunter S. Thompson helped cultivate this association between the island and its sugarcane liquor, with his legendary novel The Rum Diary, which was later brought into the Hollywood limelight in the movie of the same name starring Johnny Depp, renewing the desire among many to drink rum in Puerto Rico’s hidden beach bars and to the Latin rhythm of Old San Juan. From rum plantations and distilleries to high-end cocktail bars, there’s no doubt the rum scene in Puerto Rico is something you’d be sorry to miss.
Sipping in San Juan
Along Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets lined with brightly coloured houses, the rhythm of salsa and jazz drifts from each restaurant and bar, while the aroma of island cuisine permeates the air. Step inside these atmospheric bars to pair the local cuisine with your pick of tropical cocktails, made with local rum. One of Old San Juan’s most popular spots for its live Latin music is The Nuyorican Café, where amidst a frenzy of salsa dancing, bartenders whip up affordable rum cocktails with Caribbean flavours. Just a stone’s throw away on the same street is the more food-focused bar, La Bodega del Viejo San Juan. Puerto Rican-style tapas is the focus here, with both locals and tourists tucking into small plates of grouper with risotto, and quesadillas and yucca mofongo (fried plantain), washed down with Cuba Libres and refreshing Long Island Iced Teas.
Craft cocktails that encompass the sugarcane spirit are shaken up at La FactorÃa over on Calle San SebastiÃ¡n. In this rustic setting bartenders handcraft classic cocktails like the Rum Old Fashioned, flavoured with a special blend of in-house spices, dry bitters, and orange peel. Right in the heart of Old San Juan, a colonial building on Calle Sol houses The Mezzanine at St Germain, a cocktail bar on the second floor, above St Germain Bistro. The speakeasy-style bar serves up classic and signature rum cocktails, including a Basil Mojito, and a Rum Old Fashioned, combining chocolate bitters and raw sugar with wood-aged rum and orange peel. Tapas and brunch plates are on offer to soak it all up, plus they host a Boozy Bites Rum Tasting, showcasing Puerto Rico’s aged rums with a trio of tapas.
Away from the rippling rhythm of San Juan, the sleepy coastal spots run by island time. The peaceful sandy stretch of RincÃ³n – where whales can be seen breaching from the shore and those in-the-know come to surf – is the setting for barefoot beach bars like Tamboo Tavern, which has been lauded by the international press. Tropical cocktails such as La Isla Verde with coconut rum, melon liquor and pineapple juice are fitting for the bar’s coastal setting, while dishes like grilled seared tuna with ginger sesame soy reduction and grilled Caribbean lobster persuade you to stay for supper.
On a secluded spot on the island’s northern coast, the 50-acre Dorado Beach Ritz Carlton Reserve is backed by tropical forest and set overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Here, Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill offers poolside grilled seafood and signature cocktails. The evocatively named Coconut Sunset combines the island’s own rum, Bacardi Superior, with coconut, guava, ginger ale and mint.
The tiny Puerto Rican island of Culebra lies off the mainland’s east coast, where turquoise waters lap sugar-white beaches. Away from the development of the mainland, bars here have a distinctly local feel. Resoundingly popular is the waterfront spot, Dinghy Dock Bar & Grill, where patrons soak up the island vibe while munching on grilled seafood and sipping the local rum with revitalizing coconut water.
At the source
But surely the best place to drink rum in Puerto Rico is at its very source? Small distilleries and plantations are dotted around Puerto Rico, such as the family-run rum producer Ron del Barrilito at Hacienda Santa Ana in BayamÃ³n. But for a chance to tour the distillery and taste the rum that’s produced here, Casa Bacardi is your best bet. In addition to distillery tours and rum tasting classes, the distillery runs a mixology class. Casa Bacardi is situated on Catao, which overlooks the capital’s old town from its setting on the coast, just outside of San Juan.
Returning for its seventh edition on February 20th 2016, Puerto Rico’s rum festival, Taste of Rum, will once again take over Old San Juan’s historic promenade, Paseo de la Princesa – which lies between the ancient city walls and the sea. Festival revellers hop and sip their way between stalls hosted by the island’s rum brands, while tucking into Puerto Rican street food. The Rhythm of Salsa, Calypso and Batucada – African influenced Brazilian Samba – ripples through the exuberant, rum-sipping crowd, as the festival’s flair bartenders juggle, flip and pour rum cocktails to an audience of impressed onlookers.
Booking a trip to Puerto Rico? Our partnership with Delta means we can connect you to a wide range of destinations across the United States, making Puerto Rico within easy reach.
Have you delved into Puerto Rico’s rum scene? Which were your favourite spots to sample rum in Puerto Rico? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Lauren Hill