Rafael "Tio" Rodriguez was living in Puerto Rico and had been making pitorro (or moonshine) for 50 years when his nephew Ralph Barbosa came up with the idea to bring his uncle to New York to make the traditional spirit legally and introduce it to a new audience. The moonshine was a family recipe and Ralph had always heard stories about moonshining and fell in love with the delicious elixir.
Ralph and his friend William Valentin grew up together in the Douglass Housing Project on the Upper West Side. After running a few other businesses in the South Bronx area, they got the idea to start producing pitorro in the growing area of Port Morris. It's something very different from all the craft beer, whiskeys, and rums being produced elsewhere in the city.
The distillery has been embraced by the community, local spirit world, and Puerto Ricans who have missed the flavors of home.
Pitorro is a traditional Puerto Rican spirit, usually made as moonshine, and very popular around the holidays. It's been produced since the 1600's and is similar to rum since it is usually made from molasses or sugarcane.
Port Morris Distillery is a licensed New York Farm Distillery (which we discuss in greater detail on our Craft Cocktail Tour) and so they must use a majority of New York grown products. So for their pitorro, in addition to brown sugar, they use corn, local honey, and New York gala apples. The flagship Shine is perfect on its own - even at a dangerous 92 proof - but they also make different infusions and aged versions.
In addition to the Shine, they also age the pitorro in used oak barrels from Breucklen Distilling for their special añejo which is a bit smoother and has a unique oak twist. This is something Rafael has always wanted to do and now in the Bronx, he has the opportunity.
Curados are essentially pitorro that is infused with different flavors. They experiment at Port Morris Distillery with things like
pineapples, jalapeños, and cinnamon. These special creations can be tasted at the tasting room and at special events. They also work beautifully as the base of a cocktail.
The tasting room and distillery has a huge space for people to come for cocktails, tour the facility, and hang out at the bar. Port Morris is in the process of expanding and last year opened up Gun Hill Tavern directly next door in conjunction with Gun Hill Brewery to celebrate the craft alcohol production happening in the neighborhood (Bronx Brewery is also in walking distance to Port Morris).
We too want to celebrate all the exciting local production in the Bronx and so Port Morris Distillery will sometimes be a stop on our Brewery Winery Distillery tour. You can buy their bottles on the tour or in specialty liquor shops around the boroughs, including Sussex Wines & Spirits (which is very close to the start of our Midtown Sights & Bites tour).
Plus this is the only commercial pitorro distillery in the entire country, so it is a rare opportunity to get a taste of a delicious part of Puerto Rican culture.
Port Morris Distillery,
780 E 133rd Street
Bronx, New York 10454