By José Carrasquillo and Kelly Thompson
When one meets Ivan Torres Ortiz, one can’t avoid being drawn into his world and feeling the intensity and passion fueling his dream. His passion is making artisan rum, a passion soon to be on display at his craft rum distillery here on Vieques. He talks about his upcoming venture with a contained, refined intensity, like the product that he will bottle and sell – changing the future of the island one sip at a time.
While earning his Master’s Degree from the University of Minnesota, Ivan began touring that state’s growing micro-brewery industry. He had an idea to emulate their process with a similar model on his home turf of Vieques, but with an entirely different product; rum. The rums of Puerto Rico are known the world over, but Ivan’s concept is unique and singularly focused in its mission: to produce, bottle and sell a superb-quality artisan rum here. And his business plan is unlike anything ever executed on this tiny island. When asked how long he has been working on his enterprise Ivan says, “I started in 2009.
This is not a regular type of business. It’s very complex and complicated because everything you do will be regulated by two governments. My 10-year old daughter, Paola, is probably the only person who has witnessed the incalculable hours of work that have gone into this.”
For Ivan, the big turning point took place a few years back when he was hired as the General Manager at Hacienda Tamarindo Hotel. Talking with the owners one day, Linda and Burr Vail, Ivan went out on a limb and shared his dream. Having been successful business owners on Vieques for two decades both Linda and Burr saw the hurdles facing him and decided to come on board to help navigate the complex sea of permits and legalities, along with getting serious investors on board to give the venture a solid lift off. Of the partnership, Ivan says, “I had to learn to allow Burr and Linda to help me. I realized that I couldn’t do this without them.” Burr is proud of Ivan’s business acumen and what he has achieved. They both laugh when Burr describes the partnership as “a very fascinating relationship.” Burr sees tremendous potential, including room for future expansion. But for now he and Linda are just excited to help Ivan realize his dream. Along with his dream, Ivan sees the start of his business as a catalyst to usher a robust, cultural tourism industry onto the island. He believes a craft distillery will attract the crowds that artisan coffee is now bringing year round to the mountains of Puerto Rico.
Despite the frustration of feeling dismissed for years, this consummate over achiever is as passionate and driven to succeed as ever before. His confidence is unshakable, his priorities
calibrated and exact until the distillery opens later this year.
Is there a name for this venture?
Ivan’s eyes light up, and with his contagious smile he says, “Crab Island Rum!” He leaves the table like lightning to look for the prototype bottle and its label. He returns with a classic-looking bottle and cork destined to hold a powerful elixir. The label on it, a land crab on a map of Vieques, was designed by local artist Bill Shank. Ivan responds with a proud smile to the compliments flying around the table, a man with a dream on his never-ending quest for perfection.
If you would like more information about the project please contact Ivan at [email protected]