After many years of family gatherings and vacations in Puerto Rico, Rafael Barbosa became intrigued with the history of the island’s “moonshine rum,” or Pitorro, a delicacy made from sugar cane.
Along with his childhood best friend, Billy Valentine, and his uncle, Rafael Rodriguez, Barbosa decided to put that interest to use and bring the flavors of the 1600s to the South Bronx. They launched the Port Morris Distillery, located on 780 E 133rd St, almost a decade ago. The varied tastes of Pitorro the venue serves include Coquito, Honey, Passion Fruit and a homemade recipe called the “abuelita” which is infused with raisins, cinnamon and prunes.
“We have been investing in the Bronx for over 11 years. When it comes to this business it’s very important to me to have it be Bronx-made,” said Barbosa, 46. “We can easily take it to Brooklyn where there are a lot more distilleries and we will get more attraction, but I like what we are doing and it’s more of a community down here,” he added while pointing out the oak barrels in the production room.
Originally a film editing music studio business, Barbosa and Valentin, switched up the game by opening the distillery in 2011 after numerous Google searches on how to distill their own alcohol and spirits. New York State law allows for small businesses to produce liquor through micro-distilling, a process that requires the company to produce 75 percent of its liquor from farm products such as apples and honey grown and produced within the state.
In Port Morris, the distillery offers its customers, or “members,” the opportunity to take a trip to Puerto Rico with free tours and tastings in their courtyard, which mimics the vibrant colors of Old San Juan.
“Back when I was younger during the holidays me and my family used to take the train back up to the Bronx and there was always Pitorro there,” said Barbosa
Rachel Scola, 24, who worked in the Bronx didn’t expect to find a venue this unique in Port Morris, but her expectations changed after she found herself in the midst of the distillery’s spacious and comfortable setting.
“I think they are working hard to be more than just a warehouse and industrial spot,” said Scola. “It is a hidden gem.”
With the help of Rodriguez’ traditional recipe, the distillery sells its main recipe, Pitorro shine and anejo, at prices ranging from $16 for a 375-ml bottle to $35 for 750-ml. It is open from Wednesday to Thursday between 3 and 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 3 p.m. to midnight.
Port Morris Distillery has garnered attention from the community since opening. In 2016, the Distillery expanded into a new bar right next door called the Bronx Tavern, which offers a different theme with food and beer.
“It’s a space for people to hang out have a cocktail and order food all in one,” said Barbosa. “ It’s home, its comfort and its safe.”