Saturday, August 16, 2008

Puerto Rico is Rum-tastic!

Today is National Rum Day! In its honor, I thought I would post a little on one of Puerto Rico's most popular attractions (and exports).

Me enjoying my free Bacardi Gold

So I am willing to bet that if you take a little walk over to your liquor cabinet and pull out your rum, it's probably Bacardi. Bacardi is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of rum, and although there are several Bacardi factories and headquarters around the world, their Casa de Bacardi distillery in Cantaño, Puerto Rico, is their largest and also open to the public. For FREE! I love free things!

Casa de Bacardi

The Bacardi Factory is on many people's "to-do" list when they visit San Juan, and rightfully so. Even if you aren't a brewery/distillery buff, it's hard not to recognize the importance of rum to the history and culture of Puerto Rico. Many people associate the island with its "fine Puerto Rican rums," and there are certainly many produced here, among them Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Palo Viejo, Don Q, Boca Chica, Llave, Castillo, del Barrilito, Rico, and Cañita Cura'o. Puerto Rico is also famous for their rum-based drinks, and while the the piña colada its "official" beverage, you'll find a whole host of others, like mojitos and Cuba libres, on all restaurant menus in San Juan.

Courtyard room at Casa de Bacardi

So is a trip to the Casa de Bacardi worth a half day of your Puerto Rico vacation? Well, I guess that depends on you and your vacationing style. I liked it because, as a student, I am pretty poor so am limited to cheap or free excursions. The Bacardi tour is free, and included are TWO free drinks at the Bacardi Bar. The tour itself takes about an hour, and goes through a "Spanish courtyard" room and introduction, a little movie on the history of the Bacardi brand, a replica of an old distillery and Don Bacardi's original office, a demonstration on how to make mixed drinks with Bacardi, an interactive area where you can watch movie clips about Bacardi's production and my favorite, a "smelling area" where you get to smell rum at various points during its production as well as different types of Bacardi rums. At the end you can email your friends a video postcard and take a picture in front of a wall of Bacardi bottles, and then they take you to the store, where you can spend $16 on a "mojito muddler." Yes, it's a slightly commercialized tour, but it's also informative and well put together and did I mention that you get two free drinks? ;)

The demo bar at Casa de Bacardi

So that's it for Bacardi. But interestingly, in my "cultural study" of the people of Puerto Rico, it has seemed that most Puerto Ricans, at least on the island, actually drink Don Q rum. I really don't know why, some say it's cheaper, some say it's smoother, and some claim that you won't get a hangover. I say my rum palate sucks and it all takes like lighter fluid to me. Plus, the chance of me not having a hangover from rum is approximately zero, so I really cannot judge. But, it's just an observation.

Me and Beezers in front of some Bacardi bottles

Don Q also has a tourist attraction in San Juan, directly across the street from Pier 2. It is called Casa Don Q, and basically it is just a giant room where you will pretend to read some facts about the history of rum while coyly making your way over to the rum bar, where you can sample FREE drinks made with Don Q rum. That's right, while walking around Old San Juan, you can take 5 minutes of your time to stop by Casa Don Q and have a free drink. The advantages of visiting Casa Don Q is that
1.) The hours are much better, and if you miss the ferry or the last Bacardi tour (around 3:30), Casa Don Q is still open until 8:00 (except on the weekend, when it's closed)
2.) You can walk there in 1 minute after getting off your cruise ship (if you're the cruise ship type).
3.) It doesn't take a 1/2 day to visit Don Q. Actually it takes about 5 minutes. Unless you are a serious sampler.
4.) If you need a souvenir for your boozehound uncle, the gift shop at Don Q is much less expensive than the one at Bacardi.

Bacardi's advantage? Well, it feels like an actual excursion, with the ferry and taxi rides and the much longer and finely produced tour. Additionally, I felt like I actually learned a lot on the more informative Bacardi tour. Most importantly, the Bacardi tour is at the actual distillery site itself, and while you don't really get to see much of the working factory, you know that somewhere on the property, thousands of gallons of distilled molasses are being bottled and shipped around the country and into the eager hands of pre-gaming college students. Casa Don Q is just a room inside an Old San Juan waterfront building, the actual distillery is located in south of Puerto Rico.


So what is one rum-savvy traveler to do? The answer is obvious...

Renee's Rum-tastic Puerto Rico Adventure:
(This tour has not been endorsed by the Puerto Rico tourism board or your mother. )

*Get yourself out of bed before noon, get to Pier 2 in Old San Juan, and take the 50¢ ferry over to Cataño.
*Have the taxi driver (yes, the one screaming "Bacardi!" that you think is schizophrenic) take you, for $3/person, over to the Bacardi factory. You could walk there, I did once, but it is SO worth the $3 to drive.
*Have your two free drinks while waiting to take the tour. If you're feeling snacky, pick up a piece of rum cake at their little snack vendor, but I will warn you, I've had much better. (Specifically, I've had amazing Puerto Rican rum cake here, and you can order them. But that's for another blog.)
*Take the Bacardi tour.
*Take the taxi/ferry back to Old San Juan's Pier 2, cross the street, and hit up Casa Don Q.
*If you're into mixing beer and hard liquor, head about one block up to the Old Harbor Brewery, the only microbrewery in Puerto Rico, to try their $9 sampler, which features a sample of their 5 house beers. I mean, you've already had rum. Liquor before beer, in the clear, remember?
*You must be hungry, so have something to eat at any one of Old San Juan's fine restaurants.
*Refreshed! Now it's time for a rum bar to taste all of the Puerto Rico's rum. In Old San Juan, you can check out the Caña Rum Bar in the Hotel El Convento, or alternately you can take the A5 bus to the El San Juan Casino in Isla Verde to hit up Koco's swanky rum bar.
*Stumble home and relax. You've had a day to remember, although you probably won't remember a thing...

Casa Don Q
Open Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Marina Street in Old San Juan, across from Pier 2

Casa BACARDI Visitor Center
Cantaño, Puerto Rico
from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM
(Last tour at 4:15 PM)
Sunday from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
(Last tour at 3:45 PM)

Click here for a full list of Puerto Rico's rums


ms said...

WOW! Thanks for appreciating what Puerto Rico has to offer!

Hope you had a great time with food!

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