Words by Jesse Serwer–
The National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City (see highlights from yesterday’s edition here) is about as close as you can get to experiencing the “51st state” without leaving the continental U.S. One element of Puerto Rican culture you’re not likely to find on the parade route, though, is pitorro—Puerto Rico’s answer to moonshine and bush rum.
Though easy enough to locate in PR if you know where to look, this legendarily strong (at least 80 proof and as much as 190 proof), typically fruit-infused homemade rum—also known as canita— tends to be considered illegal there. So no matter how much you enjoy it on your stay in Puerto Rico, we don’t recommend packing an extra bottle for the trip home.
Thankfully, now there’s PitoRico, a new brand from Jayuya, in the island’s mountainous central region, that promises to pack the punch and distinctive flavor of authentic pitorro into legally acceptable alcohol-by-volume levels and a retail- and import-friendly package. PitoRico isn’t the first brand to attempt such a maneuver—see our spotlight on the Bronx-based Tirado Distillery—but it seems that they might be the one to bring this Caribbean classic into a new, mainstream light.
Besides for its classic, white pitorro, PitoRico also comes in a handful of fruit-flavors including coconut, parcha (passion fruit) and tamarind, and a rum-based sangria dubbed Zangria. We had a chance to sample the latter at Miami’s Rum Renaissance Festival in April and, it turns out, rum really does make a nice substitute for wine in sangria, matching its sweetness with a more crisp flavor. The concoction proved to be so popular at the festival that supplies ran out quicker than you can say “Zangria.”
Launched last year in Puerto Rico, PitoRico plans to bring its commercial-friendly canita to the U.S. next, starting—where else?—in New York. When we find out any details on where it’s being sold, we’ll be sure to spread the word.