Puerto Ricos Spirit Guide Image Credit: Latina
Puerto Ricos Spirit Guide Image Credit: Latina

Puerto Rico's Spirit Guide

Rum has been produced on the island for nearly 500 years. But the industry was a virtual boys’ club until Silvia Santiago came along.

Kathleen Squires

IT WAS ACTUALLY A THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE, not rum, that propelled Silvia Santiago into a rare position: Puerto Rico’s first and only female Rum Master Blender. A true pioneer, Santiago, 65, started her career in the business 43 years ago. Under her watch as senior vice president of Destilería Serrallés, she has garnered dozens of awards and honors for the 151-year-old producer of Don Q rum.

Santiago grew up humbly in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and earned a scholarship to the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, where she studied natural sciences, chemistry, and medical technology. She then earned a master’s degree in global management. With this varied training, Santiago is certainly a jack of many trades, and a master of rum. She shared some of her experiences and insights with Latina—as well as her surefire recipe for traditional Christmas coquito.

How did you become involved in the rum trade?

With my background, I thought I would be working in hospitals. But the Serrallés family was looking for someone to work with yeast and fermentation in their lab, and because of my microbiology background they interviewed me. They gave me an offer, and that was my first job at the distillery. At that time, I was very young and very curious. I would always escape from the laboratory and go into the distillation area and ask questions. The people who worked there always

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