Don Papa is the brand that has put premium single-island rum from the Philippines on the map. Its first bottle was produced in 2012 and since then Don Papa has achieved something of an international cult following among rum aficionados. The brand is set to grow globally, with an expanding portfolio of exciting expressions.
Many would associate rum with the Caribbean or South America ahead of the Philippines. Yet the country now ranks as the third-largest rum market in the world (after India and the USA). Filipino rum is made from sugar cane, which has been grown in the country for centuries and has become its leading crop.
Unsurprisingly then, there are numerous Filipino rum brands, and the spirit is a major component of the country’s signature cocktails. But Don Papa, as the first super-premium sipping rum, has taken the popular Filipino spirit into another sphere.
It could be said that the rising international interest in Don Papa rum mirrors the growing appreciation for and profile of the Philippines itself. Centuries of interaction with neighbouring countries and colonial powers have created a place of extraordinary cultural diversity and with a unique identity.
Don Papa Filipino rum
Don Papa celebrates and supports the heritage of the Philippines and the long and colourful history of Filipino rum production. The eponymous character whose face adorns the Don Papa bottles was a real-life Filipino hero; Dionisio Magbuelas, also known as ‘Papa’ Isio, a sugarcane plantation foreman who played a key role in the late 19th-century revolution to free the island of Negros (where Don Papa rum is produced) from Spanish rule.
Some of Negros’ fantastic array of flora and fauna is also represented on the packaging, and the brand is closely involved in initiatives to protect the island environment and the endangered species that inhabit it.
The Iush and (literally) sugar-scented isle of Negros is the fourth largest of around 7,640 islands in the Philippines and is located in the central part of the archipelago. Negros is known colloquially as ‘Sugarlandia’ – the sugar bowl of the Philippines and the source of some of world’s finest sugar cane. Don Papa uses noble cane, an ancient variety that is higher in sucrose than other types and produces a sweeter sugar cane juice. Fed by pure spring water, this cane grows in the rich volcanic soil at the foothills of Mount Kanlaon, an active volcano that stands proud amidst the luxuriant local landscape.
The cane is ground at traditional mills to extract juice, which is boiled down to form sugar crystals. Don Papa rum is made from the thick dark molasses that is a by-product of the sugar crystallisation process and is referred to as ‘black gold’ – one of the sweetest in the world. As well as its outstanding sugar cane, Negros is an excellent place to produce rum because of its particularly humid tropical climate.
The key to premium rum is in its smoothness, and to that end, Don Papa ages its rum for seven years in American oak barrels, then distills and blends it using methods similar to whisky production. The ultra humidity intensifies the rum’s flavour, as vanilla notes are drawn out from the wood of the American oak bourbon barrels, resulting in a long, rich-textured finish and deep opulent flavour.
Don Papa is bold and adventurous in exploring the possibilities of premium rum production, and presents an expanding and eclectic range of expressions. These include the original Don Papa 7 Year Old, Don Papa 10, Rare Cask, Sherry Cask, Rye Cask, and Port cask.
The Sevillana bottling is matured in Oloroso sherry casks and Andalusian Vino de Naranja casks and is heady with spice and citrus notes, while Masskara is a lighter offering – honey scented and botanical. The latest release (available from early 2023) is Don Papa Gayuma, a super-premium rum that is deep and dark with notes of cacao and candied peel, and a smoky, spicy finish.
Don Papa rum is smooth and nuanced enough to be enjoyed straight up, or on ice, or as the star ingredient of skilfully mixed cocktails that do justice to its unique flavour. Don Papa’s exotic face will be a familiar presence at discerning bars across the globe, and he has an expression to accompany every rum drinker on their Philippine journey.
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Melina Keays is the entertaining director of Wallpaper*. She has been part of the brand since the magazine’s launch in 1996, and is responsible for entertaining content across the print and digital platforms, and for Wallpaper’s creative agency Bespoke. A native Londoner, Melina takes inspiration from the whole spectrum of art and design – including film, literature, and fashion. Her work for the brand involves curating content, writing, and creative direction – conceiving luxury interior landscapes with a focus on food, drinks, and entertaining in all its forms
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