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A barrel of aging rum

Taking one for the team

As a tour director, sometimes I take one for the team.

That is, before every trip I scout around to make sure we won’t encounter any nasty surprises. I encounter them all by myself, long before my tour group shows up.

The red brick tower at Ron del Barrilito

This tower was originally a windmill used to process sugar cane.

Here’s a good example. I recently took a group to the Ron del Barrilito facility in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. (Ron del Barrilito means “rum from the little barrel.” They age the rum in old sherry barrels.) The Fernandez family has been making rum for over two hundred years. When they first started, they produced the rum out of their home, which is still standing today. In fact, it’s still a home to some of the family. But the rum is now aged and packaged in a dedicated warehouse. There’s also an ex-windmill, now used as an office, and an outbuilding for maintaining the machines and barrels.

It’s an interesting place. They have barrels and barrels of rum, stacked up in racks, just sitting there aging with their special blend of spices. Some barrels have been sitting there longer than I’ve been alive. There’s even one barrel that dates back to 1942, when it was sealed against the day Puerto Rico gains its independence. But the two rums they produce commercially are Two Star, aged 3 years, and Three Star, aged 6-10. That is, the Three Star is a blend of rums aged between 6 and 10 years.

Barrels stacked up for the rum to age

There are racks and racks of barrels. It’s cavernous. I had two tour members go in to explore, and they disappeared. It was time to go. I tried standing in the entry to the storeroom and yelling for them. It didn’t work. And I can be loud when I want to! But my voice got swallowed up by the rows and rows of barrels. I had to find them on foot.

Over time, a tiny bit of rum evaporates through the barrels, which makes for an amazing aroma in the storeroom. And when we visit, the owner Manuel will pull the stopper out of a barrel and let you take a whiff. I’m all about stimulating the five senses!

Anyway, I decided to stop by there last month before my group arrived in Puerto Rico. It turns out there was construction along my normal route, and the traffic jam was horrendous. It cost me a couple hours to escape the jam and find an alternate route. Once I got there and was chatting with Manuel, I asked how long it would take to get back to San Juan on the alternate route during rush hour. He said, “Oh, yeah, that’s the way to go. You don’t want to take route 5, there’s construction.” I was thinking, “Yeah, thanks… I already found out about the construction.”

When I took the group, it was smooth sailing. They never knew about these efforts I took to spare them that miserable traffic jam.

Now, there are some things you absolutely can’t anticipate. A tree will fall and block a road. A restaurant will be closed on a night it was supposed to be open. That’s life. But to the extent I can prevent surprises, through planning and legwork… well, that’s part of the job.

A barrel of aging rum

This one’s dated 3-11-74 – just a little older than I am!

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