I Visited the Birthplace of Piña Coladas and Learned to Make Them Like a Pro
Outside Barrachina in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a bronze plaque reads: “The house where in 1963 the piña colada was created by Don Ramon Portas Mingot.” In the decades since Don Ramon’s discovery, the drink has exploded in popularity: The restaurant now serves approximately 2,200 piña coladas a day.
I stopped into Barrachina on a recent visit to Puerto Rico. And, while undeniably touristy, the restaurant is the type of place where everyone’s having a good time. Even though a nearby hotel, the Caribe Hilton, also claims it invented the piña colada, none of the patrons surrounding me seemed to care. Probably because Barrachina’s piña coladas are delicious — and, you know, filled with rum.
Matt Scarano from Orlando, Florida, has never been a piña colada drinker, but made the pilgrimage to Barrachina after hearing recommendations from so many people. He was glad he did. “I’m definitely more of a piña colada fan than I was five minutes ago,” he told me.
Ruben Reyes, a Barrachina bartender from the Dominican Republic, said 95 percent of customers order the signature drink. Many sing the song, too. “In three years, I’ve never heard of anyone who doesn’t like piña coladas,” said Reyes. “They’re refreshing, you can drink them in the morning or the night, for meetings, anywhere.”
To Justin Ries, a Bostonian on vacation with his girlfriend, Nuria Cuadradas Jimenez, piña coladas don’t necessarily scream “meetings,” but they do say “vacation, warm weather, beach, and relaxing.” And that’s the beauty of piña coladas: They instantly transport you somewhere tropical. So, with winter fast approaching, I asked Reyes how I could bring Barrachina’s piña coladas back with me.
How to Make Barrachina Piña Coladas at Home
Barrachina mixes its base in giant slushy machines, resulting in the smooth, thick, frosty texture it’s famous for. If you don’t have a slushy machine (you pauper!), the next best option is an ice-cream maker. Failing those two, however, you can still make a darn good piña colada in a blender.
That is, if you follow Barrachina’s recipe.
- Mix four parts pineapple juice with one part Coco Lopez or Goya coconut cream.
- Blend for 30 to 40 seconds with 3/4-part water, then put the mixture in the freezer, stirring occasionally until it achieves your desired thickness. (If you want to blend it with a scoop of ice instead, then skip the water.)
- Pour your desired amount of rum — Reyes suggested a shot; I suggest a couple — into the bottom of your glass. To make it authentic, use Ron del Barrilito, Puerto Rico’s oldest and most cherished rum.
- Pour the slushy mix on top, then decorate with a cocktail-umbrella-stabbed maraschino cherry and pineapple chunk.
A Small Secret for the Best Piña Coladas
Reyes said the third step is their “little secret,” revealing: “If you put the rum first, it’s going to mix really good.” Since the rum is lighter than the slushy, he said, some will rise to the top, mixing perfectly as you drink it.
Who knows if that’s scientifically accurate; all I can say is my piña colada was well-blended and didn’t taste strong at all (and it’s good I limited myself to one).
Jimenez couldn’t taste the rum either, saying: “You can drink it like it’s juice … by the way, are you publishing the recipe?” (Ask, and Kitchn shall provide!) “I gotta say, it’s pretty freaking good,” added Allison Acosta of Westchester, New York, who was celebrating her one-year anniversary with her husband ,Marcos. “It’s one of the best piña coladas I’ve ever had. [Marcos] makes them at home, but this is definitely better.” When Marcos protested that his piña coladas were actually pretty good, Allison responded with a smile, an eye roll and a “Sure … how about we just take Ruben [Reyes] home?”
Great point, Allison. While we all wish we could take Reyes home with us to make piña coladas year-round, the recipe above is a pretty decent consolation prize.