Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Manuel Sastre does not even manage to believe what will happen. He's hot, he's covered with sweat and he's about to step out of this liquor store in Hartford, Connecticut, with two six packs of ice-cold Medalla Light. It's been too long.
"Eighteen," Sastre told me. "I have not been to Puerto Rico for 18 years."
Sastre says it's like "I'm back on my island".
In fact, since last month, Medalla Light, Puerto Rico's favorite beer, is finally available for sale in Connecticut – just in time for the summer heat. For many Puerto Ricans on the mainland, it's a chance to taste at home.
The cans have the color of a gold medallion and, like Sastre, they sweat. They are smaller than the average beer can of 12 ounces – that's for the beer to not warm up before drinking. Regarding Medalla, Sastre says there is only one way to have it. "Cold, cold, cold," he says. "Better than Coors Light, Corona and all the rest. [It’s] the best."
For the record, there is no ordinary Medalla – only Medalla Light. Beer has been around for decades in Puerto Rico. This is everywhere on the island – from beach coolers to roadside bars. And now he's become global on the Billboard Hot 100. It's the hook of "Calma" by Pedro Capó and Farruko.
But it was almost impossible to get Medalla on the mainland until the company started selling it in Florida last year. And now, it's also in Connecticut.
"It's something I've been waiting for for a few years and I'm so happy and proud," says William Quiros, sales representative for Hartford distributors, while forklift operators unload a load of Medalla. "Myself, I am Puerto Rican and I drink a beer that comes from my continent, it's an honor to be here."
More than 300,000 Puerto Ricans live in Connecticut. So, there has always been a demand for Medalla here. But Quiros says demand has risen again after Hurricane Maria forced thousands of people to leave the island and travel to New England.
And he says the beer goes fast. His company says sales have been double its forecast. He says that everything is a matter of nostalgia. "Just drink Medalla and listen to the little music and eat the pernil and rice and beans and you know, it brings families together, "says Quiros.
"I mean it's nothing special – it's like a comparison with a Bud Light or a Busch – but it's just that piece of house that brings you back," says Adrián Rodríguez. from New Haven, where I met him in front of an alcohol store. He ended up taking out a pack of 24, in stock for his next trip to the beach.
"I'd like to go to the sound," he says, "and bring a case of Medalla and sit on the beach and feel at home."
The beaches of Long Island Sound, Connecticut, are not exactly the same as the white sandy beaches of Puerto Rico, but Mr. Rodriguez said that Medalla would reduce the distance between them much shorter.