Spirits & Liqueurs Rum

This Mystery Rum from Puerto Rico Became the Real Thing. And Here’s How.

In rum circles, Ron del Barrilito’s 5 Star rum has long been something of a legend. Members of Ed Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum message board have been seeking answers about the mysterious Puerto Rican rum’s rumored existence since 2007.

“In the USA, all I can get is 2 and 3 Star versions,” wrote one member. “When I was in Puerto Rico a few years back, a bartender told me that there was a 5 Star available, but they did not sell it in the USA.” Hamilton responded, “The Fernández family tells me they have never made a 5 Star rum, though they have heard rumors of the elusive 5 Star.”

The rumors can finally lay to rest this August, when a 5 Star rum aged for 35 years will hit the market. But true to Barrilito’s elusive nature, there will only be 2,500 bottles available.

For those unfamiliar, Ron del Barrilito has been one of Puerto Rico’s best-kept secrets since 1880. Launched by Pedro F. Fernández, the brand has been putting out its 2 Star and 3 Star bottles for years, though they’re rarely seen on bar and liquor store shelves outside the island.

That might change now, as the family-owned business has been sold to three Puerto Rican investors who are giving the brand an infusion of capital that has already led to a more robust social media presence and the announcement of the 5 Star, which will retail for $750. The first 200 bottles sold will come numbered in a wooden chest made by local artist Gil Hernández.

“The Fernández family never produced the 5 Star,” says José Colon, one of Ron del Barrilito’s investors. “They had it in their plans but never went forward with it. This is the first launch the company has done in probably a hundred years.” Despite the change in ownership, members of the family do still work at the facility.

And while Ron del Barrilito has rolled out a new website and videos on Facebook, one shouldn’t expect a whole new approach to selling the rums aged at Hacienda Santa Ana in the city of Bayamón. “Barrilito is not a big publicity brand,” says Colon. “It’s a small-batch, artisanal brand.” But it will start to be easier to find in big cities like New York and Miami.

Though there’s of course a massive difference in price—you can find 3 Star for less than $40—the 5 Star follows the same aging process as the two other beloved expressions.

“Ron del Barrilito has a very unique blending process,” says master blender Luis Planas. “Prior to aging, we use a very neutral rum to which we add natural macerated fruits in very small quantities.Then the rum is aged for a minimum of three years in oloroso sherry barrels brought from Spain.”

Notes of vanilla, apricot, prunes, almond and other fruity aromas evolve, which have a woody backbone with lingering sweetness. These flavors have given Ron Del Barrilito a reputation as a whiskey drinker’s rum.

The 5 Star, says Planas, has a much different complexity. “The taste is subtle toffee with a smooth finish that lingers on your palate,” he says. “This is only achieved when combining the characteristics of a product aged for 20 to 35 years and a younger one, no less than 10 years, to dilute the heavy tannic concentration of the older blending components.”

Considering the cost and time it takes to create the 5 Star, don’t expect the typical Barrilito shot when it comes to this bottle, which will be available for pours at Condado Vanderbilt hotel, Santaella restaurant, Jungle Bird bar and Bodegas Compostela in San Juan.

As Planas recommends, drink it neat or on the rocks. For $750, you’ll want to savor every drop.