Behind the Bar

In Puerto Rico, a Cocktail Revolution

With its own commissary, group aims to elevate the industry on the island
A worker prepares limes at Licorería Miramar in San Juan.
A worker prepares limes at Licorería Miramar in San Juan. (Photo: Licorería Miramar)

The concept of a commissary kitchen isn't new, but a bar commissary? That's a bit different. When Licorería Miramar came to life from the team behind San Juan, Puerto Rico's La Factoría — ranked No. 31 on the World's Best Bars list for 2016 — it began as necessity.

"We couldn't keep up anymore ... so we basically outsourced to ourselves," says co-owner Leslie Cofresí, who opened La Factoría with Roberto Berdecia in 2013. The bar helped launch the idea of craft cocktails on the island and quickly became a smash hit. The duo have since opened Jungle Bird and Caneca Cocteleria Movil as well, all under the Icaro company, increasing the demands they had for everything from high quality cocktail ice to their house infusions, syrups and assorted other ingredients.

High quality ice for cocktails is in high demand in Puerto Rico.Having their own bar commissary allows them to prep and batch everything they use across their multiple establishments, creating an internal supply chain of sorts. It ensures consistency and quality, while also making life that much easier behind the bar.

"We solved the problem [of consistency and time] with that place," says Berdecia. Particularly at a bar such as La Factoría — a sprawling space with four different bar areas within it, all of which are packed to the brim — minimizing demands for bartenders and allowing them to focus on customer interaction while quickly churning out drinks is crucial.

That became essential in order for them to operate, and it may be where the idea for Licorería Miramar came from, but soon the concept became much more. Now, they sell to other bars and restaurants as well, and they'll make basically any ingredient based upon a bar's requested specs.

"Literally we'll do it custom for every bar," says Cofresí. That opens up a world of possibilities for bars who otherwise couldn't afford to buy enough of a particular product on their own, or wouldn't have the time, experience or knowhow to make the types of complex and high quality ingredients the Licorería can offer.

It's also an opportunity for the Icaro crew to get their hands dirty and play around, coming up with new ideas, testing concepts, and retooling menus. "It's the place of innovation for our bars and consumers," explains Chuck Rivera, bartender and partner in Icaro.

Plenty to go around

Here's the real kicker though — the Licorería even sells other bars the ingredients they make for themselves, as opposed to hoarding them as some type of closely guarded or proprietary house secrets. "It's for us and also for different companies or bars that follow and believe the same policy of serving a good quality product," says Rivera.

"We don't want to compete with other bartenders, we want to elevate the idea of cocktails in Puerto Rico," says Berdecia. "If any other bar wants to buy anything we use, that's fine."

Thus far, they're making more than 50 ingredients at the Licorería, while their ice continues to be a best seller. When La Factoría opened, large, clear ice on Puerto Rico was basically unheard of, and it's still somewhat of a rarity, making it a popular offering.

By opening up the Licorería to other bars and restaurants, it's become profitable, but that's truly beside the point. "We make money but not that much," says Berdecia. "It's more on volume. We try to buy everything local, and the thing is, local is more expensive."

The real point is the growth of the cocktail community and culture all across the island. And when the established leaders are the ones preaching that type of rising tide lifts all boats approach, it's sure to spread. "It's not gonna grow if it's just one place... it's about building community," says Cofresí.

"Cocktails are just a percent of what we do," adds bartender Carlos Irizarry. "The best part of La Factoría is the team."

With the Licorería, Icaro is basically making anyone on the island who's interested a part of that team and overall community as well. Cofresí hopes that in five years, finding well made craft cocktails is a given anywhere across Puerto Rico. "We'll help grow the industry here," he says. "That's important to us."

Jake Emen is a spirits, travel, and food writer who's been published in USA Today, GQ, Vice Munchies, Roads & Kingdoms, and elsewhere. Follow him on the socials at @ManTalkFood.

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