Exclusive Interview with Mr. Frank C. Stipes, owner of Rones Superiores de Puerto Rico & Compañia Inc.
One of the things I enjoy the most about “Got Rum?” is the magazine’s ability to record, share and perpetuate information with its readers.Conducting the Exclusive Interviews allows me to prompt members of the rum industry for
insights that would otherwise be beyond the reach of consumers and colleagues. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Frank Stipes and I can say, without any hesitation, that he is as passionate about rum as one can become. His enthusiasm, clarity of vision and devotion to action are 100% rum centric. I am very excited about what he is doing for the Puerto Rican rum industry in particular and the rum industry in general. I wish him and everyone at Rones Superiores much success.
Margaret Ayala, Publisher
Q: What is your full name, title, company name and company location?
Frank C. Stipes, owner of Rones Superiores de Puerto Rico & Compañia Inc., located in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
First of all, we are privileged to provide this interview regarding this old/new Puerto Rican rum brand, that is shortly to be re-launched. A rum which was in its day, as it will be again, emblematic of Puerto Rico’s traditions and heritage of fine rum making, at its best.
Before getting into the matter at hand I congratulate you and Luis for this excellent magazine, “Got Rum?”. It’s a true enthusiasts and connoisseurs “must”. For the followers and rum lovers of the world, it is one of the most important, “information stations” if not the most, on the subject we so much love, appreciate and enjoy; rum. Henceforth, we are honored to provide this interview to what I consider to be the world’s principal and specialized publication on the subject, and, as said before, a “must read” by true enthusiasts, new comers, connoisseurs and followers whoever and wherever they may be. Thank you for your interest.
Q: The story of Ron Superior dates back quite a bit. When was the brand first created and by whom?
Yes, it does. The brand is to this day 106 years old. The origins of Ron Superior Puerto Rico date back to the late 1800’s, when José González Clemente, its creator, came to the island of Puerto Rico from his native Spain, at the tender age of 15.
He wanted to make a living and life on his own, and as so many immigrants wanted at the time, find fame and fortune. His family had been, for generations, in the liquor trade. As soon as he was able to raise some capital from his hard labor and savings, working in the mountain coffee farms of Puerto Rico, he started to dedicate time to his true passion; elaborating, concocting and creating fine liquors with sugar cane distilled spirits, and aging others into rums. These rums had such an appeal, that by 1902 he had become well known in the West Coast, moving to the city of Mayagüez, to expand what had become his absolute passion, business and way of life. Mayagüez was well known for the proliferation and number of rums made in the Spanish Antillean traditions and inherent traits of the “Jerez” (sherry) producers. Henceforth, there was an ample and natural stock of raw materials for fine rums.
To put things in perspective; there were over 33 different rum brands being made in Mayagüez alone, and many others in the region within the first half of the 20th century. Among all, Ron Superior became the most favored, cherished and emblematic of the region’s traditions, expanding by 1909 the production of the recognized brand name of Ron Superior Puerto Rico under the company that bore his own, “José González Clemente y Compañía”. This was an era where Puerto Rican rums were true to their Spanish Antillean heritage. They were a testament to the fine elaborate rum making processes that made them so very special; they were dark, smooth, aromatic and proudly carried the characteristics of their sugar cane origin; a far cry from what, throughout the decades, became a category or style known as “light rums”.
Ron Superior Puerto Rico was recognized and valued as the “best among the best” and was then referred to as “the rum among rums”. It was reddish dark in color, with a beautiful and sensual movement and body to it, which elevated and brought forth an appealing sensorial experience.
We are re-launching this historic brand true to these traditions and heritage. As a testament to this, the most important commercial street of the day in Mayagüez, which consolidated the ports with the city, was called “Calle Comercio de la Marina”. That important street today bears the name of “José González Clemente” in his honor. This re-launching of the brand is in his honor as well; and marks the return to the traditions and excellence of fine Puerto Rico rum making at its absolute best.
Q: At its peak, do you know roughly how many bottles or cases of Ron Superior were sold per year?
In conversations I’ve had with my partner and good friend, José González Charneco (grandson of the founder José González Clemente and the last President of the family owned business before it was sold), the number of cases sold at its height were approximately 500,000.
The popularity of the brand among enthusiasts in the early 1950’s (and again in the 1960’s) was such that they were totally sold out, going completely out of stock. This had the terrible consequence of having the brand out of the market for well over a year. There was no inventory left or available, at the maturity or aging needed to fill the gaps under the rum brand’s stocks.
Nevertheless, it was the strongest test to the commitment of and to the brand. The respect for excellence, aging characteristics and quality of the brand was such, that under no circumstances would they cut any corners or sell any other formulated rum under their brand name that did not meet their strict standards and criteria. It took them well over a year to finally reach the aging they needed on the available stock, to be able to get the rum ready for market, “and back on the street”. This is what making excellent rum is all about. Quality, passion and being true to the excellence the brand represents and is expected to be above all.
Q: This is fascinating! Why then, did the brand end up disappearing from the rum landscape?
As far as I know and what I have been able to perceive through brief conversations with my partner, (who, as I mentioned before, was the last family member – President of the family owned business and grandson of the founder before it was sold), as successions took place (inheriting stock in the company), there were different views on what to do regarding the forecasts, vision and expectations in and for the family business. This coupled with a number of economic issues that at the time (the mid 1970’s), the Industry as a whole was confronting (but clearly surmountable, if not for the impasse created by the conflicting views) the difficult decision was made to sell the family business.
The new owners, unrelated to the family, in a short period of time had leveraged the operation, languished from its core principles of rum making, and in a matter of years the company ended out of business, halting the production and elaboration of this once best-selling, emblematic, historic brand.
This re-launching is best expressed in no better words than those of my partner, José (Pepo) González Charneco himself, which I am honored to quote: “for over 40 nearby years this brand has been in an intellectual aging process, and now, what I always dreamed would happen, this very special ultra- premium rum, will be again available to share and enjoy by all in Puerto Rico and the world!” God permit, so it will be.
The production for the first year is forecasted and limited to 10,000 cases. You can just imagine the enormous expectation and excitement there is to again, have available this historic, emblematic brand, produced in the “old school” tradition of fine Puerto Rican rums, of another era, a tradition of over 300 years in the making, and represented in this brand that is over 106 years old.
Q: When did you start playing with the idea of reviving this flagship product? Is there anyone else, a partner in your business who is playing a key role in this revival?
In regard to the first part of your question:
The idea had been lingering in my mind for a very long time, as a matter of fact, for decades. Since my childhood I enjoyed going to my grandparents’ pantry and bar. I would spend hours looking at the different liquor bottles. I loved pulling out their corks, how it sounded, and uncap others. It made me feel like I was in another world of unparalleled aromas, elegance and good taste; a noble vintage feel of special, magnificent moments and lasting impressions. It was bliss!
I enjoyed smelling their contents. I must have been 6 or 7 years old. At that age you are mostly attracted by the aromatic characteristics. At least, I was. I remember tasting some of them. They felt strong, a burning sensation and in a way repulsive to me. How impressions change with age!
My grandfather had been a distiller and rum producer from 1938 until the early 1960’s, having partnered with Hiram Walker and Sons. After dissolving their relationship, the rum plant became a cattle feed production operation. As Captain “Jack Sparrow” of “Pirates of the Caribbean” would say, “The rums were gone”. I still have some of those “old” rum bottles and memorabilia of the brand with me today.
Decades later, in the late 1970’s, I heard the news that the most recognized, sought after and classic rum of the western region of Puerto Rico, Ron Superior, would not be produced anymore. It was hard to believe. Why would a brand of that caliber, category, following and history not continue to be produced? It was a mystery to me. Sadly, “This rum was also gone”.
I could still remember its ads, “always emulated but never equaled…”, “a tradition of quality and excellence unsurpassed…”. It was then that I decided, that someday, if I had the opportunity and time, I would bring back this brand and others, rescuing the fine characteristics of what fine Puerto Rican rum making had been all about but had been abandoned decades ago. I was not going to produce another rum in the style they had become and known in the mainstream, but what they were and would be again; classic, premium Puerto Rican rums true to their unique Spanish Antillean traditions and heritage.
In my career and studies I had seen this occur time and time again. It had happened in the watch industry, the “come back” of excellent brands and classics with names such as Ulysse Nardin, IWC, Lange and Sons and so many others, where a mechanical timepiece was again preferred to the razor precision of quartz; and innovating and using quartz in another way, as it was done with the “Swatch” watches; in the coffee industry, where a fast boost of energy became once again “an experience and enjoyment of the moment” and the appreciation of a fine brew “of Espresso”; in the retro designs such as the “Converse All Star” sports shoe, the “Harley Davidsons” and so many other examples, where those that had the foresight and realized it, “back to basics” was and is where “the future lies ahead”.
These are just some of the examples of why grand designs are timeless. The smell of Channel No. 5 is everlasting. So is the magic of grand ideas, concepts, products and brands. Their beauty and charm will always be there, in the degree of passion and commitment instilled into them and, when well executed transpires through them. I was convinced, and still am, this was exactly the way fine rums had been made in the land of rums, and are to be made again. This is what Ron Superior Puerto Rico is all about: Tradition, history, heritage and above all, passion!
During 2010, in a dramatic change in my life, I decided the time had come for me to take action and follow that endeavor.
Thank God, what I envisioned and forecasted at that time, basically five years back (and what I anticipated would probably occur in the rum world as well), is what I have seen unfolding throughout these years, and today, clearly in line with what the re-launching of Ron Superior Puerto Rico is to be, our Island’s true classic, historic and emblematic Puerto Rican rum, going back to its roots for all to discover once again and enjoy. This is why we say Ron Superior Puerto Rico is, and will always be, in a category of its own, as to what Puerto Rican rums are. It will be complementary, not exclusionary, to the “light rum category”, both duly respected.
Going forward, as I focused on the objectives, instead of on the many obstacles confronted, miracles began to happen. The second part of your question, that very important, key person you are asking about, is the grandson of the founder of Ron Superior Puerto Rico, who had kept the illusion strong and alive in his heart and mind, “to someday return to the rum world” he was born into, worked in and lived for more than half of his life, and see once again, people all over the world sharing their special and most significant moments in life with Ron Superior Puerto Rico. It was a blessing to join forces with José (Pepo) González Charneco.
During our first meeting, we realized that our vision for the brand, without having a prior discussion or comment on the topic, was homogenous, with regard to its history, brand and what this illustrious resurgence was to be, going back to its roots at its best, in the ultra premium rum category. We were clearly on the same page. We both carry rum through our veins.
His grandfather was the “alchemist” who created the brand, and mine, a distiller and rum producer in his own right. Pepo had been the last family member at the helm of the company that produced Ron Superior Puerto Rico prior to it being sold. The missing link of the chain of events to follow had been found, put in place and locked, for this 106-year-old brand to make its grand resurgence.
Ron Superior Puerto Rico represents and rescues the excellence of what this brand and Puerto Rican rums once were and will be again, here and now, true to its unique heritage and history.
We anchored our inspiration, formulation and re-launching of this very special brand in its pre-prohibition roots of the 1920’s (enacted in Puerto Rico as of 1917). We have been enriched and enhanced by constant consultation and validation with those we have found throughout this journey to be the absolute best, most knowledgeable, passionate and committed apostles of our same creed, to elaborate and launch this fine, exclusive and unique rum, true to its heritage, traditions and history. We see and feel this as purists, in the concept of old Puerto Rico rum making.
Q: We understand that you will be using some incredibly unique buildings as aging warehouses; can you describe what these are and how you were able to secure them?
Yes, the buildings are amazing. Another miracle and what we call “a found treasure”. Sometimes destiny works in mysterious ways.
Once the brand was rescued and saved, we started looking for the appropriate venue to become and be the “House of Ron Superior” and the return of the historic rum industry to Western Puerto Rico.
We wanted a venue where rums had once been made. A location with character and history and where we could focus on the long-term view with capabilities of expansion. We took to “heart” what “going back to basics” really meant. It had to be a place clearly in line with our vision, with the same energy and synergy of Ron Superior…a place where we would be making this great rum and writing history once more.
I had heard about this site located on the old country road that trails through the Western Agricultural Valley Reserve, but could not find it. Some said it had been demolished, others that it had been vandalized and destroyed, but I needed to find out for myself. After days, going back and forth six times covering the same road, without being able to locate the property, I decided to take one last drive. This time I drove slowly, looking to one side of the road one way and then only to the other side as I made my way back. It was then, that through the lush of the evergreen vegetation, at a distance, and through the slightest of apertures of the forested area I saw a dash of a wall, as my car was moving. I parked, got out of the car and moved as close as I could and WOW!!!, there it was. I could hardly believe it! Almost 40 years had gone by since this property and buildings were abandoned; nature had literally “swallowed the buildings”; ferns and vines were all over them, making them invisible to passers-by from the road; they had trees growing on their roofs, nature had literally taken over them from top to bottom.
In our first visit we had to cut our way through to enter the buildings. The floors were covered by at least 3 to 6 inches of dirt, the ceilings were full of bats, thousands of them, flying all over. Overall, the property was in terrible conditions. It had been vandalized, stripped of everything; but “their bare bones” were still there. Where everyone else saw filth and horror, we saw only beauty, character and history! Three huge structures, 30 feet high and with approximately 15,000 square feet each in size. We got “goose bumps” just standing there! We could imagine the barrels aging there. This was a “rum compound” of another era, of another time and exactly what we were looking for and wanted. Those initially consulted on the “rescue” of the property first said this was “total madness”. That opinion changed as we moved forward, as we started to clean and restore it. We immediately researched who were the owners and who had built this. The site had been selected exclusively, since its origin for the purpose of producing rums. The location had been chosen due to its high humidity factor and its sea level elevation, to fetch the best characteristics of aging Antillean/Caribbean rums. The buildings had been specifically designed, built and used for the preparation and aging of rum, being as they stand, the largest ever-built in Puerto Rico’s west coast rum history.
The buildings were constructed in the 1940’s by what then was the largest and most important liquor conglomerate in the world, Seagram and Sons, Ltd., an empire created by the late Samuel Bronfman. The property was closed down in the mid 1970’s consequence of a series of events in the industry and the unfolding of the Seagram’s Empire, which, in later years abandoned the Island. Through the years the property had been divided and broken into three different parcels of land, but we still managed to get a hold of its “heart and soul” and secured close to 20 acres of land where the abandoned aging warehouses were built. “Seagrams” built this compound with the intention of dominating the world’s rum market. Their launching pad was this property. It was here that many of their rum brands destined for the “American” market were developed, originated, tested, aged and/or improved. Some unknown today, such as “Christopher Columbus Rum” and “Oro Nativo Rum”, and some “home rums” such as Captain Morgan, (a rum that today is not prepared and bottled in Puerto Rico but in the US Virgin Island of St. Croix), among others. On a curious note, the search we did on the property showed that “Captain Morgan Rum Company”, a Seagram holding company, once had owned it.
The buildings are positioned in the most humid and wet valleys of western Puerto Rico, in order for nature to do its magic through the aging process. When examining the roof, we discovered the buildings had six-inch deep-water pools throughout the entire area. This was magnificent and hard to believe. These were designed in order for evaporation and humidity to conjure and with the tropical Antillean temperatures, breezes and the elements of nature, producing a marvelous aging process unique and special to the brands and rums placed therein, a building we have called “the temple of aging”. This creates a symbiosis in the most important step in the making of fine rums: “its aging”. We believe this to be un-equaled anywhere in the world.
It is here that Ron Superior Puerto Rico will be produced, reviving the traditions of fine Puerto Rican rum making.
I’m sure the excitement we feel about this is transparent, apparent and contagious. We want to share it with and through this fine and unique Rum.
The first of these buildings, as mentioned before, will be our “Temple of Aging”. The second building will house our rectifying and formulation of distillates and rum making operation and laboratories and where our bottling, capping and labeling will take place. This building will also have a small promotional store, a tasting bar and small historic hall or museum on the subject of rums from our region. We have over 100 historic rum bottles as a testament to our past, and inspiration to our present and future.
Q: Wow, that is amazing. But not only are the buildings uniquely engineered to be aging warehouses, you are also going beyond the structures and arranging the barrels in Soleras, why?
That is correct. We are firm believers that in a fine ultra-premium rum, as is Ron Superior, the aging process, and how its aged, are critical factors to the overall excellence, quality, characteristics and refinement of the brand and product.
For us, rum is only born in a barrel, not from a condenser, be it from a pot still or a column. Just because it’s a distilled spirit derived from a sugar cane plant does not automatically make it rum. Let me put this bluntly: anyone, with a little knowledge of science can make alcohol. But it is only with passion, patience, dedication, good taste and a good dose of love (and aging in barrels) that you make a great rum. That is the only way Ron Superior Puerto Rico is made. It’s this critical difference in “barrels and aging” that make “rums, ron, rhum and romo” what they are.
In the “Spanish Antillean Islands” or as they are were also called the “Spanish Virgin Islands” (meaning Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba, and in that order) it has been clearly distinguished for hundreds of years and correctly understood that “pitorro, aguardiente, mample or pitriche” is just a sugarcane distilled spirit (diluted or not with water or whatever, be it illegal or legal) but its NOT rum. In order for sugar cane alcohol or what we know as “aguardiente” to be converted into rum, it needs to be aged in barrels. Puerto Rico requires it by law. Producing rum, even more so a fine rum, is much more complicated, time consuming and expensive than simply getting sugar cane alcohol into bottles from a pot still or column. It requires not only the appropriate raw material (ethyl alcohol) needed, but aging it in barrels (an art in its own right), and the talent, imperative and impeccable good taste, mastery and the patience of a rum artist. Henceforth, making fine rum is an art. Science and chemistry are needed, but left far behind.
This is why Ron Superior is not only aged rum but a Solera rum. It is only through these indispensable stages of aging, blending, formulation, resting and oxidizing, that a magical transformation occurs, into what we, at Ron Superior, consider is a fine ultra premium rum. Ron Superior will have the first full, sole Solera aging warehouse in Puerto Rico in well over half a century.
Solera is intrinsic to our Spanish Antillean heritage (from the valleys of Jerez “sherry’s”) and fine rum making traditions, as those of Ron Superior Puerto Rico. The Solera concept is divided into two general categories:
Those who age in a Solera formation created by stacks of pyramids and rows of horizontally placed barrels one over each and;
Those who, in addition to the Solera formation, age under the Solera process and methodology as well.
We at Ron Superior insist in both. Solera, etymologically comes from the Latin word “solum” meaning “suelo” or ground, or closest to the ground. It is always a horizontal plane. A vertically positioned barrel for the sake of “aging” is a “no no”, under an absolute quality criteria. This is unacceptable to us.
The Solera process has a continuous maturation like no other. It connects past and present in every barrel, giving the elixir aged therein a complexity and uniqueness that defies time and space; a never-ending improvement to the organoleptic quality and characteristics of the brand.
As you “take out” from the Solera (ground or lower barrel) it is never completely emptied. In a cascade conception, this barrel is replenished by the contents of the one above, and so forth until the top barrel is reached and refilled with fresh ethyl alcohol, which, accordingly is never fully emptied. This is further enhanced when the Solera comprehends multiple pyramids at different stages of maturation and in parallel one to each other, tailored in harmony within the spectrum and profile of the brand. This is what Ron Superior Puerto Rico is all about.
It is our way of making rum. In a way it is the “circle of life” of our rum. As we like to say “God is in the details; the devil, in the lack of them”.
All these details are what make our rum so very unique and special; felt, valued and enjoyed in every sip of Ron Superior Puerto Rico.
Q: Puerto Rican rums have traditionally had a very low congener level, is Ron Superior following this trend?
This is a great question and I’m so happy you ask it. No. It is not. But let me go back a bit, on our rum brand and history.
The reality of the fact is, that what is known today as “mainstream” Puerto Rican rums (low congener), are a far cry from what they were up to in the mid 1930’s, being until then the most floral, organoleptic appealing and sensorial rums of the Antillean micro cosmos.
Puerto Rican rums were blessed with an extraordinary history and combination of traits, some from our motherland Spain and others intrinsically Antillean, a blend that made them extremely special and exquisite.
The pressure built up by circumstantial events, trends, outside influences, investments and economic interests in the Island, coupled to the opportunities of the North American market lured not only most of the local rum producers but those bought out, to become and be industrialized high volume, low cost suppliers of “mixing rums”. The trend started in Cuba, throughout prohibition, and the world wars, and Puerto Rico through its ties with the United States, caught up soon enough and capitalized on the opportunity and excelled, becoming an industry standard and force to be reckoned with, as they still are today, being the best-selling “light rums” (meaning low congener) in the world. Unfortunately, this “rum category”, in order to fulfill that market, abandoned and left behind all of the fine characteristics and qualities that made these old Spanish/Antillean Puerto Rican rums so unique. In other words, for these industrial, high volume production rums that became known as “light rums”, the more neutral, the less aroma, the less colored, the less flavored, the better.
Ron Superior is a completely different Puerto Rican Rum experience altogether. Ron Superior is what a true Puerto Rican rum was all about, a rum among rums, true to its characteristics, heritage and old school traditions, proud of its Caribbean sugar cane origin. Ron Superior will be again, as it originally was, a dark rum. This is why we say it is in a category of its own, separate from other “light” Puerto Rico rums.
First of all, it is not, and will never be, an industrial, high volume production rum, but a crafted and very special rum experience. Our rum looks, feels, smells and tastes like an “old school” full-bodied rum, because it is.
This is not another neutral Puerto Rican rum to be mixed. It’s dark, medium bodied and to be enjoyed neat or on ice and/or with a “splash” of your favorite sparkling water, as it’s meant to be.
As a Puerto Rican rum, it’s in a category of its own, being a statement to its roots and heritage. Its “old school” charm and fascination is detectable and delectable in every drop, due to a meticulous focus on quality, un-wavering passion and care to details in all steps of its process.
Henceforth, congener levels are what we call intermediate; high enough to bring out the absolute best of its Caribbean sugar cane origin, but without the “overkill or abuse” that would diminish or annihilate the pleasure of its overwhelming sensorial experience.
We are convinced Ron Superior will be enjoyed by rum enthusiasts, as well as Whisky lovers. It is a unique and very special rum.
Q: Ron Superior does not operate a distillery, rather it purchases alcohols produced by someone else and then ages them. What advantages does this business model give you over someone who ferments and distills their own rum?
Rones Superiores de Puerto Rico is a boutique and select rum producer, dedicated exclusively to the elaboration of this fine Caribbean rum, honoring its traditions, heritage and history.
We have stayed true to the historic practices of Ron Superior Puerto Rico, as have done other fine Antillean/Caribbean rums that do not generate the raw material for the elaboration of their products. This has not been limited to the production of ethyl alcohol, as some producers or distillers buy their molasses from far away countries unrelated to the place where the ethyl alcohol will be made. We can keep “pushing back” (or even push forward) this topic to where the sugar canes were grown or where their seeds came from and so on, but the important and fundamental question is where and how the rum is made. I say this because making rum is not and will never be the same as making alcohol.
Ron Superior only produced its own distillates from 1909 to 1911. Recognizing back then that making a fine rum was more important and time consuming than making the base alcohol, it was decided to concentrate all efforts, time and focus exclusively “on the art of making rum”, becoming then, as we are today, a sole and exclusive rum producer and not a base alcohol production operation.
This gives us and enormous advantage in the quality and selectivity of our base ethyl alcohol, which are in no shape, way or form considered to be rum.
As all good artists do, we select the best raw materials for our “work of art”. Michelangelo would select the best Carrara marble for its sculptures, as we do with the ethyl alcohol distillates for our rum; the absolute finest our Caribbean entourage produces; coupled with our virgin sugar cane juices from Puerto Rico, important in the formulation of our rum.
Fermenting and distilling is a lot of fun and we do enjoy it. However, making fine rum such as Ron Superior is a far more complex and time-consuming process than that followed to produce a good distillate. It’s pure passion and art.
It is important to distinguish the process of producing ethyl alcohol, from that of the production of rum. Even though one generates the raw material and base component for the other, it, on its own, is not rum. This fundamental distinction might come as a surprise to a few, but it has been known and understood for hundreds of years in and at the cradle of rum, the Caribbean. The elaboration of fine rum takes a considerable amount of time, applied traditions, passion, good taste and knowledge in order for all these elements to do their magic and in a very special way, transformed into the “work of art”, that is rum. Being as we are, a unique and sole rum rectifier, we see rum as an absolute artistic expression, which entails in itself the art of aging, resting and appropriate oxidation. Rum masters dedicated to the ultra fine rum premium world know the enormously broad spectrum of distillates out there and their ample array of characteristics that seldom, if ever at all, are found or produced with such variety and detail in one single place.
This level of choice, selection and scrutiny available to us is virtually non-existent to a single distiller, least of all to those subjected to industrial set ups driven by high volume production cycles. This open approach provides us an independent, impartial broad look and selectivity, which guarantees we are using the best ethyl alcohol in order to produce the absolute best rum and rums. This is the essence and vision or our rum company and operation in Western Puerto Rico. Only the best for the best.
We have set up our facilities only and exclusively with the “art of making rum” in mind. We invite all to come and visit. Our ethyl alcohol has been made for us under our strict requisites in the Caribbean and from Caribbean/Antillean grown and harvested sugar canes.
This is our “credo” and “modus operandi”, of our Spanish/Antillean traditions and history of fine rum making for all to enjoy once again, through this 106 year old brand soon to be “back in the street”.
Q: When you close your eyes and remember the last sip you had of Ron Superior, what are the key aromas or flavors that come to mind?
The full spectrum and entourage of aromas and flavors I will leave for each to discover on their own, as this is sometimes very particular to every individual. I will tell you though, that every sip of Ron Superior is a “déjà vu”, a discovery of past ages in the present moment, a glorious sense of elegance with the exuberance and passion every drop conveys of its unquestionable historic Caribbean heritage.
While uncorking the bottle, its seductive dark voluptuous body and sensual movements are appealing and apparent as its spirits and exquisite aromas from its sweet sugar cane origin embrace and surround you; your ambiance is transformed; your mood is captivated; an organoleptic encounter starts to take place; a holistic sensorial experience begins as you, and every drop, meet for the very first time, and become one.
It’s what we call “a Superior moment”!
Q: It is no secret that Puerto Rico is going through very difficult financial times. There are also a lot of companies who want the Excise Carryover Program to stop. What are your thoughts about the carry over program and also about the impact Ron Superior will have on the Island’s economy?
Regarding the first part of this three tier question: The Island of Puerto Rico is going through its worst economic downturn since its change in sovereignty in 1898 (from Spain to the United States), as a consequence of the so called “Spanish American War” where the entire Island was devaluated by 60% on currency issues alone; and the effects the Great Depression of 1929 had over Puerto Rico. It’s important to understand the background of the carry over program, that dates back to the days of prohibition but was not implemented until the mid 1930’s in order to compensate some of the consequences and effects many policies implemented upon the Island had, and as an aid to its economy.
The Island has had and has a number of social and economic issues, many of which are of its own doing. However, it is important to understand its relationship with the United States, as concurrent to the dire situation Puerto Rico is faced with today. The Island is a colonial territory of the United States. It was claimed from Spain as a condition to the signage of the peace treaty on December 10th, 1898.
Puerto Rico had been granted autonomy shortly before the change in sovereignty. From an autonomous state, it was subjected to a military government. Puerto Rico was submitted to the exclusive mandate, control and powers of Congress (which has not changed to this day). Puerto Rico has been defined to have, under Congress, and by law, an “unincorporated territorial status”. As late as 1952, it was directed to draft its own constitution (under the direction of Congress), to be able to “self govern” only its internal affairs, as long as they would not conflict with the determinations of Congress and the federal laws and regulations so imposed. There after, the relationship was to be known as that of a “commonwealth” and the Island as “the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” name it still has and relationship it still holds. All throughout this period, while Congress was directing the destiny of the Philippines towards their eventual independence, and Hawaii towards statehood, Puerto Rico was kept and subjected to the “unincorporated territorial status” as part of its economic, commercial and military vision of the time.
As of today, this status has not changed. We can’t fully blame Congress, to have insisted and lured the Island and its people to stay under its powers and present status quo, as Puerto Rico was, and still is, the most beautiful island, in a strategic Antillean location with beautiful and compassionate people, called by many “the Island of Enchantment”. The Island, as small as it is (100 miles long by 35 miles wide), is the last and largest populated (per capita) colony remaining in the world today.
Being as it is, Puerto Rico lacks international identity, nor can it have, nor has, any external relationship with any country if not pre-authorized by the Department of State of the United States, has no control over customs, nor the international waters around it or immigration, just to name a few.
However, Congress did have the courtesy to authorize for Puerto Rico, back in 1901, a representative to attend the sessions of Congress, in order to be informed on what Congress was legislating, but without granting any voting rights or authority, not even limited to or regarding matters that would affect or be pertaining to Puerto Rico. This is exactly the way it still is today. Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico have never voted for the President of the United States, having so many so honorably served, fought and died in all wars so declared by the United States since 1917.
When Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States, sugar cane, which had been grown in the Island for hundreds of years (together with a full array of tropical crops), was basically singled out, favored and forced upon the Island at a level of concentration and consolidation, that in a little more than a decade, many of the sugar mills and domestic plantation fields had become the property of absent American controlled “investments”. By the end of the 1930’s, due to changes in the sugar market, Puerto Rico had lost most of its luster as a low cost sugar producer for the American market (as sugar beet and corn syrup had become cheaper options), Congress then encouraged the Island policies and directives towards an industrialization model, as a massive migration of puertorricans were moving to the mainland to look for work. The new vision was to start moving and engaging American industrial conglomerates and companies to take advantage of Puerto Rico’s territorial / possession status, its location, low labor costs and the US dollar and open operations in the Island. This conversion and model caused the eventual collapse of what was a multi-sectoral, small locally owned businesses and mainly agricultural economy, into what years later was to become a chemical, pharmaceutical industrial complex and power house of multinationals.
As industries continued to move to Puerto Rico, the benefits of low cost wages and attractive costs of living started slowly but surely to erode and fade away. In lieu of these, tax incentives, tax breaks and tax exemptions started to be rolled out. Examples of these were the creation of special incentives and laws by congressional writs such as Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code for tax free income of multinationals. Puerto Rico had been directed and converted, under these special laws, into a “tax heaven” for the nation’s most powerful multinational corporations. The corporate benefits handed down to companies moving to Puerto Rico lured and blinded the local government with the immediate “job offerings” and “industrial growth” this was to have in and for the Island (something that sounds all too familiar today). This was to create jobs, as it did, hundreds if not thousands, of blue collar employments and a considerable number of local “management positions” but only to implement and execute the desires, strategies and follow the orders imparted by absent high level executives, CEO’s and boards of directors, for the benefits and profits of absent shareholders. The once multi-sectoral agrarian economy had vanished, as the foreign tax free pharmaceutical and chemical industrial apparatus paved the way. Accordingly, local production of goods basically disappeared by the massive influx of imports from abroad, leaving the small and middle sized locally owned businesses in complete disarray. Puerto Rico had become, in a matter of years, one of the ten largest consumer markets of imported “American made” goods of the Nation.
Sociologically, it became better and more profitable in Puerto Rico to be an employee of a multinational foreign corporation, doing business in the Island, than engage in the struggles of becoming a local entrepreneur or become a local business owner. None of those US multinationals paid taxes in Puerto Rico, nor to the United States or the IRS. They still don’t. On the other hand, none of the local businesses had any of the benefits or tax incentives the multinationals had. They still don’t. By the mid 1990’s Congress changed its view on what these benefits implied to the United States and the IRS, labeling them “corporate welfare”. Congress now wanted the corporations it had directed to Puerto Rico, to start paying their dues. Henceforth, it repelled the law which provided the tax breaks under the code and established a phase out period. The industrialization model and plan Congress had favored for decades “to help the Island” now had the unintended consequences of imploding, once again, the economic model and basis on which Puerto Rico had been running, without reaching the proposed objective of taxing the retained earnings of the multinationals. These hired armies of accountants to move “off shore” their accumulated profits and then moved as well their operations out of Puerto Rico, without repatriating their accumulated profits, as it is still the case today.
To put things in perspective: Puerto Rico, if compared to any state, is poorer than the poorest state in the Nation, that of Mississippi, by twice its poverty level. Unemployment in Puerto Rico is three times that of the Nation, and for graduate students and those looking for work under 25 years of age, this staggering figure is over 50%.
The Island’s loss of population in the last few years by those struggling to make a living has been reputed to be at a rate of 1,000 families a month. Puerto Rico has suffered a population loss of talent and youth estimated at over 500,000. Due to the numbers of misguided outside interventions and irresponsible generalizations of economic theories imposed upon the Island, in absolute irrelevance to its reality, coupled to a number of counterproductive contraction measures implemented by the local government, in total disregard to the obvious devastating effects these would have (causing thousands of layoffs and imposing, at the peak of the great recession, property tax increases by one and a half times on all residents), caused the economy as a whole to tank, aggravate and accelerate its contraction and freefall; all of which destroyed the Island’s homeland values, its real estate market, putting it up for grabs to outside voucher funds and predatory investment groups, under the patronage and stimulus of the local government, which to this date continues to confuse “investments” with “outright takeovers” and the loss of local ownership over our island’s patrimony: its businesses, goodwill, properties and land. The convergence ratio of Puerto Rico’s shrinking economy to public debt load, downgraded to “junk status”, has become a nightmare; even more so when Congress, has castrated the Island, for no other reason than its colonial stature, stripping it, at will, from any ability to restructure its debts, as can any person, city, municipality or state do, and as any other related or unrelated jurisdiction can in the world, by the right to draft their own appropriate laws. Puerto Rico has been out casted from any such rights by Congress. On the other hand, we could also go on and on, and see other examples on how Puerto Rico has also benefited in so many ways throughout the years, but at what price. The carry over program approved in 1917 was, and is, one of those tools that have helped Puerto Rico. It has assisted the Island’s treasury throughout the years. Due to the many economic situations Puerto Rico has confronted, this is one of the few structured pillars it can hold on to. It has helped, and helps, fund the Island’s schools, hospitals, roads, public services and infrastructure; and in a way, with all probability, a local product, that most likely would have disappeared (as basically all the rest), if not for it, meaning the rums. Yes, we fully support the carry over program.
This said, we make it absolutely clear, that our business model at Rones Superiores de Puerto Rico is not dependent, based on, or conditioned in any way shape or form, to any rebates or carry over programs, government hand outs, helps or grants. We have none and expect none. We are true believers in what this historic brand is all about and how, going back to basics, is the way we head out to the future. This new/old rum brand, 106 years old, is soon to be rediscovered by all. It’s the return to fine puertorrican rum making at its best. However, our vision on what the carry over program represents, under our strict, classic rum making criteria, can be, for the rums of the Caribbean basin, the “found link” to a chain of events, for the benefit of all. We have a new vision on this matter in and for our Trans Caribbean and American venue. Our vision and initiative is far and beyond how it has been viewed to date. The way we see and feel rums, is that the best is yet to come. We would love for all of your readers to come to our Island, visit and see what we are all about.
The last tier of your question, regarding the impact Ron Superior is expected to have: First of all, it represents the resurgence of the traditions of fine puertorrican rum making in the western region of Puerto Rico, as it was at the beginning of the last century. Secondly, the realization and rediscovery by Puerto Rico and the world, of this organoleptic and enticing rum, that like yesterday, will be again, emblematic of our Islands best, and evidence of what a true classic “ultra-premium” rum is all about. Thirdly, as a company strictly dedicated to the elaboration of fine ultra-premium rums, we seek to rescue the position (in a category of its own), as a puertorrican rum, separate from those well known as “light rums”, as a direct consequence of it process, characteristics and aging; thus proliferating into its development, profitability and growth.
This, in turn benefits the Island and the western region of Puerto Rico. It has been an inspiration and motivation to many, rescuing this attractive place to visit, learn about rums and enjoy, with its historic “rum hall” or small museum and surrounding areas, and the house of this fine “ultra-premium” puertorrican rum. This, in itself, will have a positive effect in the area, economic and otherwise. Above all it will have a huge impact on the self-esteem, psyche and vision of all those who live in Puerto Rico, very particularly for those who live on the west coast of the Island.
Ron Superior Puerto Rico reminds us of our roots, our agriculture, our history and our heritage. There are so many things we can all do, and do well, with conviction, commitment and confidence. This relaunch fills with pride every hard working person; more so the visionaries, who know and understand the effort it takes and all the difficulties it implies, more so under our Islands present moment ; but only thus, will Puerto Rico rise again, be known, recognized and respected, by ideas, dreams, projects and the results they entail. Ron Superior Puerto Rico is a product of excellence, tradition and historical roots; made in Puerto Rico, as it could only be done here. With passion, good taste, commitment and love.
Q: When can our readers expect to be able to purchase their first bottle of Ron Superior Puerto Rico?
We are on the final stretch of finishing the rehabilitation of our facilities that had been abandoned for nearly 4 decades. It is obviously an intense labor of love that has a lot to do with the rum and history in the region. The first bottle of Ron Superior should be available for sale in the next 6 months. The first “batch or harvest”, if we could call it that, will be limited and select. Rones Superiores de Puerto Rico is a “boutique” rum crafting operation, dedicated exclusively to the production and elaboration of this fine rum by grand rum masters. A grand rum takes its due time and process. There is no other way to create a fine rum, at this level of commitment, excellence and quality, other than this. During the next 60 days we plan to start a number of private and public tastings and other presentations of our rum, not with the purpose of sale, but to expose and introduce this iconic, historical and fine puertorrican rum which we are confident will be welcomed, well received and enjoyed.
Its impact on the Island, even at this stage, is already being felt in the market. We aim to cater and attract not just the romantics and lovers of rum, but those who love whiskeys, brandies and fine spirits, being convinced that those who taste it, will discover a new captivating and sensorial experience through its uniqueness. You’ll love it.
Q: If people want to contact you, how may they reach you?
They can reach me at f.stipes@ gmail.com or RonesSuperioresdpr@hotmail.com. They can also visit our website, www.ronsuperior.com; and on Facebook as RonSuperior.
Executive Offices: Rum Company: Mailing Address:
Los Garajes Road 114, Km 4.8 P.O. Box 2045
Cerro Las Mesas Cabo Rojo Puerto Rico Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Road 349,Km1.8 00681
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
This is a magazine read by rum lovers all over the world. We hope that our passion for rum is felt, shared and conveyed through this interview. If any of your readers ever visits our Island, we would love for them to come by and see us. We expect to have our facilities open to the public certain days during the week, so that people from all over can come and embrace the true spirit of this fine rum with us. We would love to share our experiences, vision and, of course, our rum.
Once again, thank you for granting us this interview.