For The Future Of Rum, Serrallés Looks To Its Past

Rum is evolving.

Producers in the category want to break free from its reputation as a dark, cheap, sugary spirit used in party punches and cheap cocktails. Brands are positioning themselves as though rum were about to become the next whiskey or tequila: a top-shelf spirit enjoyed broadly by connoisseurs and mixologists.

It’s a reasonable vision.

With recent releases like the Don Q 2005 single-barrel, rum is well on its way to grabbing a greater share of the premium market. Destilería Serrallés, the distillers of Don Q, recently invited me to visit their distillery in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Here the company revealed a glimpse into the future of premium rum, which involves a nod to its past.

Influence From History

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The back label of the 1950s Don Q bottle highlighted it as an ideal base for Manhattans, Old Fashions and Daiquiris.

“What are our muses?” Roberto Serrallés poses rhetorically. The 6th-generation owner of Serrallés Distillery sat in his office, before a collection of antique Serrales bottles, still full. “For that we obviously look at the marketplace, what consumers like. But I also like to look back.”

“Retro doesn’t come out of a vacuum,” he adds. “It comes out of a real place.”

The appeal of retro goes beyond nostalgia. Consumers embrace the classics because these showcase quality and creativity as enjoyable now as decades ago.

This was apparent when we tasted through the three old Serrallés rums (pictured atop). These included two bottles of El Dorado from the 1960s. Serrallés sold this brand many years back, but retained the recipe.

A noticeable lineage ran through these rare rums, a style still present today in Don Q: aged, smooth, light-to-medium, complexly flavored, fruity, banana, brown sugar, and smoky at times like scotch.

“Our history is where we need to plant our flag,” says Roberto. “This is what’s real. This is what makes us a family rum.”

To his point: The back label of the 1950s Don Q bottle highlighted it as an ideal base for Manhattans, Old Fashions and Daiquiris. What made for superior craft cocktails back then still holds true today in the mixology movement.

Quality transcends time.

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Roberto Serrallés holds a bottle of the the Gran Reserva de la Familia Serrallés, a 20YO, $1,865 rum his company released to celebrate its 150 year anniversary.

Innovative Production

While the next-gen Don Q products contain flavors of the past, so too do they embrace the modern.

For instance, the company will follow up its innovative 2005 single-barrel with a 2007 release, targeted for next December. Moreover, additional batches of the 2005 will feature slightly different-colored labels, allowing connoisseurs to collect and compare.

Serrallés also will experiment with different barrels for aging rum. The distillery is acquiring sherry, cognac and port casks. It will also launch a barrel-aged spiced rum in the near future. Roberto believes consumers will graduate to this new line from Captain Morgan and other inexpensive options.

The spiced rum will be aged three years. Most spiced rums are unaged — the category is the exception to aging guidelines that govern much of the rum industry.

Along those lines, Roberto calls for tighter, universal rules for age statements. His company abides by American regulations for honest communication. However, this can lead to 3-year-aged Don Q costing twice as much overseas as foreign rums that claim to be 8 years old.

“Rum is made all over the world with different rules, and unfortunately aging is often on the honor system,” Roberto says.

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Rum aging in the Serrallés storehouses in the solera system.

Made In Puerto Rico

Modern consumers are more attuned to the nuisances and qualities of single-barrel and barrel-aging. And so too do they care greater about whether companies are genuinely eco-conscious.

Accordingly, Don Q is close to again growing the majority of its sugar cane in Puerto Rico. The distillery is expanding from its current 900 farmable acres to 12,000.

This involves replacing onsite sugar cane mills and boilers that have not operated in decades. And the boilers will produce a biomass byproduct that will provide energy for the distillery. “We’re closing all the circles,” Roberto says.

Solar panels already like the tops of Serrallés storehouses. This captures energy and reduces temperature inside the buildings. The latter reduces how much spirit is lost through evaporation in the persistent Puerto Rican heat.

Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com and follow him on Twitter at @kswartzz.

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