Rum is as much a part of Puerto Rico’s history as El Morro, the streets of Old San Juan or a plate of arroz con pollo.
The island’s rum industry generates more than $300 million in revenue each year and employs hundreds of people at numerous distilleries, according to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
The history of rum in Puerto Rico is the story of the families who settled there and began producing sugar to satisfy the demand in Europe for the product.
Don Q’s master blender, Silvia Santiago, explains the distillation process to tour groups. Photo credit: Courtesy of Don Q
The Serralles family is one of those stories. Originally from Catalonia, Spain, they immigrated to Puerto Rico in the early 1800s, settled in Ponce and since 1865 have been producing rum.
The family behind best-selling brand Don Q are now telling their story and showcasing their craftsmanship during a tour launched in March at their establishment in Ponce, on the south coast of the island.
Sugar production was the first business of the Serralles when they arrived in Puerto Rico, harvesting and refining the sugar cane that Spanish colonizers had brought to the island centuries earlier. They eventually opened a rum production facility at their hacienda near Ponce.
Their distilling business managed to survive the Prohibition era, which lasted from 1917 to 1933 in Puerto Rico, by focusing its efforts on producing refined sugar rather than alcohol during those years.
The end of Prohibition marks a new beginning for the family business, marked by the launch of Don Q, its flagship brand, in 1934.
There is a virtual reality component to the Don Q Rum Tour. Photo credit: Courtesy of Don Q
The new Don Q Rum Tour chronicles the family’s 157 years in the industry and also gives visitors an insight into the distillation process.
The tour takes place at the Museo Castillo Serralles, which was the home of the Serralles family for over 50 years. The elegant 1930s revival mansion includes a butterfly nursery and a Japanese meditation garden with benches, pagodas and koi ponds.
“We are very enthusiastic and proud to share from the Museo Castillo Serralles the history of the main rums of our island. Don Q is an iconic brand for all Puerto Ricans because it represents culture and quality above all,” said Philippe Brechot, CEO of Destileria Serralles, the oldest operating distillery in Puerto Rico.
“Being able to offer this new experience to our visitors and customers elevates that meaning even more,” he said.
Participants in the rum tour learn about the history of rum on the island and the know-how of Don Q production at the distillery.
The Museo Castillo Serralles, once home to a family of sugar and rum producers, and the Vigia Cross are Ponce landmarks. Photo credit: Courtesy of Don Q
Introduction to mixology
Tour participants will also take part in a mixology workshop and prepare a hand-shaken pina colada and an old fashion and have the opportunity to taste rum straight from the white oak barrels in which it is stored. The exhibition also includes an opportunity to learn about the rum production process via virtual reality technology.
“The 90-minute tour is intended for small groups of no more than 15 people. Less than a week after the tour launched, we saw high interest and foot traffic,” said Adamarie Melendez, senior tour manager. Don Q brand.
“As a permanent exhibit, we’re glad it’s here to stay so locals and tourists alike can enjoy the experience and learn about the rich history and heritage of Don Q rum,” she said. .
The tour pays a commission and is conducted in English and Spanish; admission is $15 per person and must be reserved in advance. Opening days are Thursday to Monday at 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm. Participants must be 18 years or older to participate in the tour and must present proof of vaccination to enter. For more information, visit https://museocastilloserralles.com.
The Don Q exhibit is part of the Puerto Rico Rum Journey and Rums of Puerto Rico initiatives in conjunction with the Department of Economic Development and Commerce.
The Parque de Bombas is a fire station converted into a firefighting museum in Ponce. Photo credit: Courtesy of Don Q
While in Ponce…
Adjacent to the museum is the 100-foot Cruceta del Vigia, or Vigia Cross, an iconic Ponce landmark that opened in 1984 and has withstood various natural disasters, including three major hurricanes. The arms of the cross are 70 feet in diameter.
Visitors can climb the 10-story monument for panoramic views of the city and the sea.
While in Ponce, visitors should also make time to visit the Ponce Architecture Museum, housed in a pastel pink building that some say looks like a wedding cake, and the Parque de Bombas, a barracks firefighters-turned-museum of firefighting, decked out in red and black stripes that look like a checkerboard.