Puerto Rican Moonshining at Its Best: First Bronx Distillery Since Prohibition Infuses History with Organic Chemistry [VIDEO]
Is there a doctor in the house? I need to resuscitate my taste buds!
Fortunately, Renee Hernandez, the owner of Tirado Distillery, the first whiskey and rum distillery in the Bronx since Prohibition, is a physician by day and a creative mixologist by night.
Hernandez is one of the coolest doctors I have ever met. Not only does he serve his community in the Bronx (which includes many Latino families) through his private internal medicine practice, but he serves up smooth concoctions of whiskey and rum. I had the pleasure of tasting Tirado Gold at the New York Hot Sauce Expo 2014, and I decided I had to meet the man behind the distilled magic.
This medicine man-turned-Puerto Rican moonshiner studied organic chemistry at Fordham University before becoming intoxicated by the idea of creating his own distillery in his hometown of the Bronx on a visit to the Bacardi Factory in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"I was amazed at the process. What made Barcardi different from everyone else was they took the barrel, they charred it, and it created a filtration element to the alcohol, and it also gave it that nice amber color," he told Latin Post during an on-site visit to the Tirado Distillery in the Bronx.
"I started looking at the process and I decided 'this is something we can do,'" he said. "My initial passion was rum because I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Barcardi, however New York state doesn't make molasses, so then we twisted it."
"We made it a little bit smoother, and we lowered the proof, then we aged it, using the Puerto Rican moonshine method," resulting in Tirado Gold, Hernandez said. "Then to keep that rum tradition and use something more local, we started playing with the maple syrup. So we fermented, distilled and aged the maple syrup, creating the Tirado Maple Delight."
Tirado is a tribute to his mother, who is from Aguada, Puerto Rico. "It's almost a patronage to my mother's last name," he added.
For Hernandez, distilling is organic chemistry at its best.
He reminded me of a legal version of Breaking Bad's Walter White (Walter Blanco?) -- an expert at his craft who doesn't taste the fruits of his own labor. Hernandez doesn't drink.
He's like an infused blend himself; like his whiskey and rum, his passion filters through, bringing out his best notes.
"If I was to say which liquor would be my personality, it would be the Caribe, which is sweet, smooth, distinguished and higher end," Hernandez told Latin Post.
Tirado Distillery's El Caribe is indeed a sweeter whiskey, incorporating apricots and other fruits.
Eighty percent of Hernandez's products come from New York state farms. He uses corn and maple from local farms to create a corn whiskey, maple liquors and smooth rum.
Hernandez points out that his products are organic, with no pesticides. He says the addition of the filtration process makes it even smoother "and you won't wake up with a headache."
As a New Yorker, Hernandez doesn't have time to wait around, so he figured out a method to age the liquor in oak barrels for three months that, according to him, imparts the same taste as a liquor aged 15 years.
In the future, Hernandez hopes the proceeds from Tirado can establish a foundation to increase cancer awareness and fund breast cancer and gastric cancer research.
"I like being a role model in different forums -- A, as an interpretor, B, as a physican and C, to give back to that community to say, 'everything is possible,'" he explained.
"I was born and raised here. My father was a cook and my mom was a home attendant, and only in this blessed country can someone with that particular background achieve being a doctor, achieve being a business owner, and just giving that example to all the teenagers out there that there is another avenue and that you don't have to go to the streets to become successful, that you can do it though the traditional ways and going to school -- everything is possible in this country."
Hernandez's corn whiskey and maple liquors are distributed in the New York City area, including the Bronx, the East Village, and the West Village. They can also be purchased from the Tirado Distillery's official website.
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