Puerto Rico

Drinking My Way Through Old San Juan

For Christmas this year, I got a bikini, a bottle of Bacardi Spiced Rum, and tickets to Puerto Rico! In that order.  So, before I opened the plane tickets, I thought to myself “Well, I don’t even like rum, so this is random…” And then it all clicked.  I know, I’m a little slow. Bacardi. Swim Suit. Tickets to the place that’s famous for Bacardi. Got it!


Believe it or not, we actually didn’t go to the Bacardi headquarters; we just managed to drink our fair share of it poolside or on the beach.  But honestly, Bacardi’s novelty wore off for me when I was 21.  What was more exciting during this trip was we set out to find something different. Some local beverages, and possibly in a place less “Ritzy” for a fraction of the price.  And that we did!

The local beer – Medalla Light.

This beer is touted as Puerto Rico’s most popular beer on local signs and billboards. From both a taste and marketing perspective, it is equivalent to Miller Lite. It goes down easily and pairs well with most dishes if you’re not a beer snob, which I’m not.  And you shouldn’t be either if you’re drinking Miller Light or the “Miller Light” of beers.  You can find them priced anywhere from $8 or $9 at the Ritz Carlton to $1.50 at the little snack shack on Luquillo Beach, about 45 minutes outside of San Juan by car.  I will point out that if you buy this on Luquillo Beach, you have to get up, WALK to the snack shack to get the beer, and then walk back to your beach towel.  Hence, the discount. *rolls eyes*

Rum that can’t be purchased in Walgreens – Ron del Barrilito

This rum was not advertised as much as Bacardi, or at all that I had noticed. However, a friend of a friend suggested trying it, as did a couple of locals.  The fact that it wasn’t exported was exciting to me, and obviously worth smuggling home a couple of bottles in my suitcase!  I suppose I could have purchased it in the duty free shop at the airport, rather than walking to the store (alone), going the wrong way, and having to ask for directions in Spanish at one point.  But again, I was there for the adventure.  

Eventually, I found it in a grocery store behind lock and key...clearly a step up from the Walgreens Bacardi. The “3 star” bottle was the mid-level offering and the only option both at the grocery store and the airport.  For $22 and 750 mL, that sounded about right.  We polished off the first bottle after a few days, with the second bottle being reserved for a friend of ours, who we need to send it to really soon before someone (me) cracks it open!

More beer – a wall of IPA’s

Alright, I didn’t forget about you beer snobs.  After sight-seeing in Old San Juan, we stumbled upon a really cool “hole in the wall” bar called La Taberna Lupulo. There was a wall full of taps, with beers from all over the contiguous 48 and 1 from Puerto Rico by Dacay. They offered a Pale Ale and a Red Ale.  If things like “low head” and “meaty yeast” get you going, you should totally try the Red Ale. More importantly, the atmosphere in the bar was really cool and laid back. Some folks posted up at the bar on high stools, while others just stood around or sat at small tables. The bartenders looked like the cool kind of hippies, not hipsters.  Graffiti on the bathroom walls, and fancy quotes about booze in the hallway. Chalkboard art gnomes, and tie-dye t-shirts.  I felt right at home yet worlds away at the same damn time.  If you can find it…go.  But make sure you get lost while looking for it, so you can find tons of other cool things along the way!

Other festive drinks, and possibly the winner!

A restaurant in Old San Juan, Parrot Club, had a “Mojitini” with another rum, called Don Q. This was comparable to Bacardi in price and availability.  Mixed with a light (clear) version of Don Q and Don Q Limón, this drink was my favorite mixed drink of all! Even better than the 2 for 1 Bacardi drinks, which were also pretty tasty!  The only problem was that it went down WAY too quickly!  I snapped a photo of the full ingredient list for this one, so I think I’ll try to re-create this one really soon!

Fun Fact (by Ashlee): There is some debate about whether Bacardi is actually a Cuban or Puerto Rican rum.  However, I’ve taken a tour of the Bacardi headquarters and they consider themselves a Cuban Rum. The owners were Cuban and moved the headquarters to Puerto Rico after they were exiled from Cuba by Fidel Castro in 1960.  Don Q is considered the true Puerto Rican rum and the go-to rum for locals!

- Maria Brown

Photo Credit: Ashlee Tuck & Maria Brown