As we wrap up National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), we are highlighting a business that encompasses Hispanic heritage in all that they do: Puerto Rico Distillery. October is also National Women’s Small Business Month, which is the perfect opportunity to highlight part-owner Crystal Rivera.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning, Crystal and her parents were opening Puerto Rico Distillery on Hughes Ford Road in Frederick. The heart of the business is rooted in Puerto Rican culture and tradition. The foundation of their distillery is Pitorro or Puerto Rican moonshine. This clear rum, distilled from sugar cane byproducts, has a distinctive flavor that differs from other rums many are accustomed to. Base Pitorros are then blended and flavored by adding fresh or dried fruits and other flavors. Flavoring blends soak anywhere from days to weeks, months, or even years (for those extremely patient distillers.) Similar to the popularity of home brewing in the U.S., making and blending Pittoro is common in Puerto Rico. Culturally, Pitorro is enjoyed straight, sipping while socializing. Around holidays like Christmas, friends and family gather and share their blends (hoping to be the favorite!)
Prior to owning the distillery, Crystal worked for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s ProStart program. ProStart, which Crystal participated in as a student, is a high school culinary arts and restaurant management program. The experience and knowledge she gained from her time with ProStart prepared her to open her own business. Following Hurricane Maria, while living in Columbia, Maryland, Crystal and her parents’ dream to open a distillery true to their Puerto Rican roots began to blossom. While she loved her work with the non-profit, Crystal wanted something more for herself and to be more involved in her culture. While deciding on a location, they found themselves visiting Frederick often, loving the vibe and supportive community. They took a leap of faith, went with their gut, as Crystal said, and fortunately for us, chose Frederick as home!
“Everything Puerto Rico Distillery does is deliberate,” Crystal said. Everything from their décor to the tank names help bring a slice of Puerto Rico to Frederick. They stay true to their roots “Puerto Rican Born. Maryland Made” and are committed to sourcing products from both Puerto Rico and Maryland. They are passionate about staying true to their Hispanic heritage and being able to offer the Puerto Rican community this traditional spirit that many find nostaligic. Crystal is eager to educate the community about the culture and history of Pittoro.
Puerto Rico Distillery has made a valiant effort to give back through charitable donations. Tasting proceeds for the entire 2022 year have been devoted to La Goyco, specifically to La Casa de la Plena founded by their late dear friend Tito. La Goyco is a non-profit organization in Puerto Rico that supports artisans and traditions. They also operate a community center, provide refrigeration to the public for medications and necessities if they lose power, administer workshops and so much more.
Puerto Rico Distillery currently offers 10 flavors of their Clandestino Pitorro. The distillery’s permanent flavors include Traditional (a favorite and family recipe flavored with raisins, prunes and cranberries), Almond (using almond extract brown sugar and honey from the University of Maryland), Coconut, Pineapple and Coffee. Others available at this time include Coconut Chai (very popular, get yours while it lasts!), Kiwi, Passion Fruit and Tamarind. Visit Puerto Rico Distillery for products or check out other locations and ways to purchase on their website. Make sure to follow Puerto Rico Distillery’s Facebook and Instagram pages to keep up with their business!
For more ways to support local Hispanic-owned businesses and resources available to Hispanic entrepreneurs, visit the Frederick County Office of Economic Development’s blog on Hispanic Heritage month, linked here.
Today and every day we are thankful for the Hispanic heritage and culture in Frederick County’s vibrant community.