Puerto Rican Moonshine, Pitorro, Finds a Home…

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ipes Puerto Rican
Pitorro, Finds a
Home in the Bronx
Edible Films

e Our Guide
By Robert Simonson
February 3, 2015
1 Comment
This article appeared in
February/March/April 2015: Issue No. 39 of Edible Manhattan.

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Puerto Rico’s native hooch burns bright in

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This is where “Tio” Rafael Rodriguez. is the first example to be commercially produced in the United States. That Rodriguez is comfortable while working is important. a form of moonshine that is widespread in Puerto Rico but little known outside that island commonwealth. along the far wall between two long shelving units laden with barrels. hangs a rolled-up piece of olive drab cloth. it reveals itself to be a hammock. rocks back and forth. released in both a clear and a barrel-aged expression. thinking great thoughts as he waits for another batch of PMD’s chief product to make its way through the 105- gallon German-made combination pot-column still. The product is pitorro. When it’s unfurled.At the tiny Port Morris Distillery in the Bronx. For he is the man who holds the . the company’s Puerto Rico-born master distiller. PMD’s version.

’ Then they’re going to go into the back somewhere and come back with a jug. ‘I’ll be right back. In Puerto Rico. “Everyone’s always going to offer you pitorro. He’s been moonshining since he was about 16. but not that lonely: . in Puerto Rico. launch their liquor concern. he branched off in his town and started created his own recipes. and he moved from Guayama.” The company has been at its location on East 133rd Street since 2011 — it’s a lonely industrial neighborhood.” explained Ralph. if you go to someone’s house.recipe in his head.” said Ralph. to New York to help his nephews. “Listen. There’s going to be a moment where they’ll say. “My uncle brought the recipe from Puerto Rico four or five years ago. homemade moonshine is as common as sweet tea on verandas below the Mason-Dixon Line. Puerto Rico. “It’s an old family recipe.” It’s not unusual that the Barbosas should have a pitorro formula in the family. there’s no Bacardi. Jerry and Ralph Barbosa. At 19.

The Tirado Distillery and Bronx Brewery are nearby. high-proof.’ We went back to the drawing board. the honey hails from Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook. But it spent the next two years securing its distilling license. It labeled its first bottles as rum. the corn is drawn from Lake View in Penn Yan. it changed the category. raw spirit made from molasses or sugarcane. with cane no longer one of the island’s cash crops. and the Gala apples are grown at Samascott Orchards. ‘Dude. it must use ingredients grown in New York State.” Historically. “My uncle chose to use brown sugar. One of them said. because it . “not knowing that when you add the fruits. Today. also in Kinderhook. pitorro was basically rum moonshine — a strong. Because PMD is licensed as a farm distillery. often being made from brown sugar. Thus.” remembered Ralph. you’re not making a rum. it’s less clearly a relative of rum. “We did some trade shows and met a few distillers.

pitorro is often infused with whatever’s ripe.takes away that smoky. colorful tasting room.) PMD has been experimenting with several curados. which is open on Friday nights. Others are flavored with habanero peppers and a combination of raisins. All three grew up in the same housing development on 100th Street and Amsterdam. The latter recipe comes via the grandmother of another distillery partner. fiery taste that molasses gives you. “Any fruit that they find in season. One curado. featuring honey. “He created his own version. a childhood friend of the two Barbosa brothers. which can be tasted in the distillery’s cozy. . The results are called curados. but fruit is. which we consider a cleaner version.” said Barbosa.” Apples are not a traditional ingredient.” said Ralph. (Some adventurous types actually cure their moonshine with meat and seafood. be it pineapples or oranges or grapefruit. may eventually be released commercially. William Valentin. dates and cinnamon. In Puerto Rico.

PMD’s young history has not been without its hiccups.” said Ralph. “They come and ask. The bottles brought out in late 2013 read “Shine” instead of “Rum. The distinctive bottle is an homage to the jugs that traditionally hold pitorro in Puerto Rico. then blended. PMD wasn’t one among many craft rums.S. but the only pitorro in the U. “My uncle always wanted to age in wood barrels. the distillery’s bartender. Then they tell their memories it.” PMD also offers something that would be completely unfamiliar to people who remember the elixir from life back home: a barrel-aged version. ‘Is it real?’” said Manny Munoz. “Because you normally only get it in Puerto Rico.” The añejo pitorro is aged in a combination of new and used oak barrels from Breuckelen Distilling for between nine months and two years.” Suddenly. When they try it.Slowly but surely. it’s almost too good to be true for them that it’s made here. “The twist we’ve done is aging it. . the Bronx’s local Puerto Rican population has discovered PMD’s handiwork.

though. so they go small.The bottles come in the usual 750-ml size as well as a pint-size 375 ml for the wary. . Rodriguez judged everything by eye and nose. As Ralph prepared to open PMD. just as Rodriguez’s always was in Puerto Rico. light it on fire and time the minutes until the flame went out. give or take a fraction in either direction.” Rodriguez’s distilling process. The clear pitorro is bottled at 92 proof. Instead. is not an homage to old-world ways but the real deal. “Every time!” marveled Ralph. he began to test each sample finished this way with a hydrometer.” said Barbosa. “My uncle. Those hammock breaks are well-earned. meanwhile. He’d put the distillate on his hands. rub them together and smell them. “A lot of people get intimidated. he never used any measuring tools to measure the alcohol. “The next time. He’d then throw some of the juice on the floor.” pointed out Munoz. they go big. Each batch was 92 proof.

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Puerto Rico Robert Simonson writes about cocktails. he thinks he's finally seen every Brooklyn micro- distillery. With his visit to Van Brunt Stillhouse. . pitorro. MELTING POT TAGS Bronx. His book "The Old-Fashioned: The World's First Classic Cocktail" was published by Ten Speed Press in May. But he's not sure. spirits and bars for the New York Times. Port Morris Distillery.

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