Tirado Distillery, Spirits of the Bronx
By Osaliki Sepúlveda
Who would have thought that opening a distillery in the South Bronx could be a successful business? Dr. Renee Hernandez Tirado did. He opened the first Bronx distillery three years ago with a vision of bringing the unique taste of Puerto Rican rum and whiskey, but with a twist.
A loyal Bronxite, Tirado did his undergraduate work in organic chemistry at Fordham University where he dealt with many different ways of distilling. After attending medical school, he launched an internal medicine practice, not too far from where Tirado Distillery opened its doors almost a decade later. “It feels right at home,” the Bronx native said about opening the distillery on Willow Ave and 134th Street in the Bronx.
Tirado Distillery is the first legal distillery in the Bronx after prohibition. It started as an inspiration after a 2010 visit to the Bacardi factory in Puerto Rico. Dr. Hernandez fell in love with the straightforward fermentation and the complexity of the distillation process. “It’s a nice combination of arts and science,” he said, with a smile on his face.
However, Tirado visualized a spirit that separates his product from what is already on the market. He creates a spirit that could easily take 10 to 12 years in only about three to four months. Oak chips are used to increase the surface area that gives it a nice, aged taste and a beautiful dark color. “We increase the surface area of the oak that’s available for aging instead of the surface in the barrel,” Hernandez said. “It gives us more surface area which the alcohol can interact with.”
Hernandez noted how every family in Puerto Rico had their own little stock of woodsheds and their own little stock of different fruit placed there. Tirado Distillery has found a way to integrate that same tradition into its product. A technique that provides a unique smoothness, flavor and a beautiful and vibrant amber color, “That’s unique Tirado,” Hernandez said proudly.
Some traditional barrels are also used to extract a very exquisite and unique type of rum and whiskey. Those barrels are left untouched for years, charred inside with the sole purpose of getting a very dark and aged spirit that represent the Tirado brand.
New York State changed its prohibition laws in 2008. Now, distillers are allowed what is called farm D distilleries to come up as micro distillery, as long as 80 percent of the product used came from New York State Farms.
Also in place is a three-tier distribution system in New York State. The products go from wholesalers to distributors and liquor stores sell it to the consumers. However, the law is a little different for farm D distilleries, which allows micro distilleries to sell directly to liquor stores, restaurants and consumers as well.
In compliance with New York state laws, Tirado distillery uses organic corn from Lake View Organic, an upstate-based company.
Inventing a different way of doing business and being the first distillery in the South Bronx as well has not been easy for Tirado Distillery. It brought with it a unique challenge, especially dealing with a lot of retailers and restaurants, which were used to the old fashion ways of dealing with wholesalers and distributors.
One of the many products Tirado Distillery creates is El Caribe, . It’s a sweet whiskey, also the one that enjoys the most popularity among consumers. There is a more traditional whiskey with a bourbon taste in the product pipeline. It’s not bourbon, but Tirado promises a taste like any bourbon out there.
As part of a partnership with the Bronx community and as a way of giving back, the spent corn goes to the local gardens as compost and as animal feed. Furthermore, through a foundation in partnership with Willie Steak House, Tirado Distillery donates money each year to help kids pay for their college tuition. Also, monthly breast and prostate cancer awareness workshops are provided to the distillery’s neighboring area.
A small but very well-trained staff composed of two distillers, one Fordham University intern majoring in chemistry and two vendors move the product and make the connections with liquor stores and restaurants. This is critical for Tirado Distillery to be equipped with the necessary means of a successful business.
Tirado’s product is only available in the New York State area. One of the distillery’s products, Tirado Tequila Gold called “the Whiskey Mojito,” is topped with cranberry juice. One popular restaurant that supports Tirado’s products is Willie’s Steak House in Westchester Ave and Hudson River Café on 125th Street in Manhattan. Tirado Distillery is currently looking for opportunities to expand to New Jersey and Connecticut. However, by law, Tirado will need a distributing partner in those states.
Tirado has a clear vision of where he wants his company to be in the future. As any small business, Tirado dreams of becoming a franchise that can distribute its products all over the world.
“If we are just producing the same thing that’s out there, that is not going to separate us from everyone else,” Hernandez said. “Our product is created by those who care.”