Shaking Up the World of Rum at Don Q

Roberto Serrallés redefining Rum with Don Q

Roberto Serrallés redefining Rum with Don Q

Recently the beloved “Most Interesting Man in the World,” rocketed off on a one-way journey to Mars. Is this the end of era? Perhaps the real Most Interesting Man in the World was never a Dos Equis pitchman rather hiding in plain sight in Ponce, Puerto Rico?

Roberto Serrallés grew up in a Rum producing family, Destilería Serrallés makers of the Don Q Rums, but he had no plans of working in the family business. Roberto instead chose the world of academia, getting a degree in history followed by a master’s and then a doctorate in environmental sciences at the University of Oregon. It was this last degree that would help facilitate the most interesting path to gaining a job offer in the family company.

In 2004 Roberto’s father phoned with a problem. The call went along the lines of, “I know you are studying environmental stuff and we are have a situation at the distillery with our wastewater. Can you help?” Roberto starting traveling from his Seattle home to Puerto Rico on a monthly basis in search of a solution for the wastewater situation. Before long, the hook was sunk and the son had returned to his roots.

Roberto started as Director of Environmental Risk Management and did solve the wastewater situation before taking on the role of VP of Business Development and the Commercial Director. He looks after the commercial aspects of the business but he does much more. He is greatly infected by the Rum bug and he is deeply passionate about the spirits created at Destilería Serrallés. Roberto Serrallés is a man of science with the soul and imagination of an artist and the result is inspiring.

Old Records at Destilería Serrallés

Old Records at Destilería Serrallés

In recent weeks I was invited down to Puerto Rico to see what’s happening today and tomorrow at one of the world’s most innovative distilleries. This would be my second visit to Destilería Serrallés. On the first visit I witnessed the results of Roberto’s environmental project. Of course I packed my bag…

When we arrived at the distillery for the first order of business we were shown an intriguing set of their Rums from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The first thing that stuck my eye was the brand name on two of the Rums, El Dorado. If I had known that Destilería Serrallés had owned this brand I had forgotten that fact. (The El Dorado brand is now owned by Demerara Distillers in Guyana.)

The Don Q Light Rum from the 1950s (bottled at 43%) had a pale gold color as in the 1950s Rum distillers had yet to perfect the charcoal filtration methods now used to strip virtually all color when desired. This Rum had beautiful aromatics akin to tropical flowers and fruit with layers of spice and subtle wood notes.

Don Q Vintage Rum

Don Q Vintage Rum

The El Dorado Rum from the 1960s had a deep golden color with rich molasses notes supported by smoky and Bourbon-like accents with hints of anise. The El Dorado Rum from the later 1970s was very similar while perhaps bit lighter in color with a drier finish.

While these Rums are well out of circulation and nearly impossible to find tasting them served a great purpose. All of these Rums while being unique creatures all had the same familial traits to the Rums being produced by Destilería Serrallés today.

Another interesting note on the old bottles was pointed out by Roberto Serrallés. The old Don Q Light Rum used the word “distilled” rather prominently on the front label directly above Puerto Rican Rum. We all found that intriguing as this must have been important at the time.

The magical Don Q Solera

The magical Don Q Rum Solera

Next it was off to the aging warehouses and specifically the warehouse that houses the wonderful solera. A solera is an old process for aging liquids from vinegars to beers, wines, and spirits. Each solera is unique but all are based on the same principles. Picture a set of barrels stacked vertically. The bottom barrel is where the prodcut is extracted and contains the oldest liquid. Once product is drawn from the bottom barrel (but never drained) it is then topped with product drawn from the barrel directly above. This is repeated ascending vertically until the top barrel is reached and this barrel is then topped with fresh liquid.

Before we could sit down in the solera warehouse we had to make a quick detour for some Rum of course. A sample was drawn of the 2007 single barrel that has been chosen to be the successor to the brilliant Don Q Signature Release/Single Barrel 2005 Rum (see the feature) that we at BevX love and adore. Joining us in the tasting was Jaiker Soto, the very talented master blender who was essential in launching the Signature Release program as well as the Oak Barrel Spiced Rum (to be released later this year).

Once in the solera warehouse among the casks of gently resting Rum the second menu of the day was revealed: the yet to be released/still being tweaked Spiced Rum, 15-year-old Rum, 1989 (26 years old), and of course the preview of the 2007 single barrel.

The 1989 Don Q Barrel

The 1989 Don Q Rum Barrel

The 1989 was presented to show how gracefully Rum can age. While this Rum was a bit past its prime in my estimation it did possess many charming characteristics and the concentration of caramel and fruit with the spice notes from the barrel made it a pleasing sipping Rum.

I have visited countless cities talking to bar professionals about the pleasures of Rum and the question of aging in terms of years always comes up. Aging in the Caribbean is vastly different than aging spirits in Scotland, Ireland, or even Kentucky. Rum producers in the Caribbean see losses of roughly 10% in the first year due to the climatic conditions while distillers in Scotland see just 2% loss. Think of aging spirits in the Caribbean as “dog years” with one year equating to four to five years in Scotland.

The 15-year-old was a beast of a Rum showing both power and grace seamlessly intertwining fruit and spice with a strong molasses backbone. This Rum was certainly showing signs of maturity while still offering glimpse of youthful spirit.

The Spiced Rum is very intriguing and I cannot wait to see the final product. The goal is create a Spiced Rum that is sophisticated for lack of a better term and one that drinkers of premium aged Rums would enjoy. At its heart is a three-year-old Rum and this dominate flavor is being supported by brown baking spices with cinnamon in the lead. The DonQ Spiced Rum should be completed soon and out in stores this fall/winter.

Last but not least was the 2007 single barrel. I was simply blown away by this Rum. This is the greatest single barrel of Rum that I have ever had and perhaps the best Rum that I have tasted. It is perfectly balanced and incredibly complex. The best news is that out of these single barrels that I was shown this is the one that will be available to all of you. This 2007 Don Q Signature Release/Single Barrel will be released near the end of this year. Buy all that you can as I will be out there attempting to get my hands on as many bottles as possible.

Of course we wouldn’t want to leave Destilería Serrallés without a sip of their statement/celebration Rum, the Gran Reserva de la Familia Serralés, released last year. To mark the 150th anniversary, Roberto selected casks of 20-year-old Rums from the oldest warehouses. This honors 150 years of Rum making that started in 1865 as Juan Serrallés produced, in Hacienda Mercedita, his first casks of Rum using a still he had imported from France. Just 1,865 bottles were produced and to keep the theme alive each bottle sells for $1,865.

The refreshing Caliche Rum Daiquiri

The refreshing Caliche Rum Daiquiri

It’s always sad to leave Destilería Serrallés and Roberto’s great hospitality but the thoughts of my next visit make the departure more palatable. Once back in San Juan I had to sample some cocktails made with Serrallés Rums. Without a doubt the drink of the trip was the simplest – just the way I like it. It’s a classic Daiquiri made with their Caliche Rum.

Caliche was created to prove that white Rums can have the character and depth of dark, aged Rums. Keep in mind that most of the world’s Rum producing nations require that all Rums, including white Rum, be aged in cask before they can be legally called Rum. Caliche is created with Rums aged three to five years with a touch of the magical solera Rum.

Here is how you make the perfect Caliche Daiquiri. Two ounces of Caliche Rum, one ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, and half an ounce of simple syrup. Shake these three ingredients with ice and serve in a chilled cocktail or coupe glass. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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