Rum Revolution

Don Papa Rum wants to take Philippine rum where none have gone before: Into premium territory

DON PAPA, the world’s newest rum brand, is self-tasked with a simple, if weighty, mandate: To revolutionize the way the world perceives Philippine rum. 

This newly launched premium liquor, created by the Bleeding Heart Rum Co. (BHRC), is a homegrown custom rum blend produced from Negros sugarcane. 
Aged for seven years in oak barrels at the base of Mount Kanlaon, the rum is described as “light and fruity on the nose, while smooth and delicate on the mouth”. The oak barrels give it a distinct sweetness and light amber color, imbibed with a long textured finish distinguished by flavors of vanilla, honey, and candied fruit. 
 
Don Papa is the brainchild of BHRC founder Stephen Carroll, a rum peddler with 10 years of liquor branding experience, boot salesman and all-around digital geek. It was during a visit to Bacolod 10 years ago that the germ of the idea that would eventually become Don Papa took form. While visiting, Carroll was regaled with “stories of an island that had everything; from the world’s finest sugarcane, beautiful beaches, mountains and volcanoes… even guerillas in the hills!” 
 
Listening to these stories of Negros, Carroll found it inconceivable that the region, famed for being the Sugarlandia of the Philippines, did not have its own rum brand. “The Philippines is the world’s second largest rum market in the world”, Carroll said, in an interview with adobo. “With Negros being the country’s sugarcane capital, it was simply logical that if you have Philippine rum, it should be from there.” 
 
As the idea started to become a reality, bringing the rum brand to life proved to be an exciting journey for Carroll and his handpicked team. “There’s a certain alchemy in spirits”, Carroll noted, “and the Philippine blends are known for their smoother and well-rounded profile.” The key to premium rum, they found, was in the smoothness, a characteristic they achieved though aging the drink in American oak, then applying a distillation process similar to the one used for whisky. According to Carroll, all this is meticulously done in fulfillment of “a duty to create a premium Philippine rum, that could be developed into a truly international brand.”
 
“There is a trend moving towards ‘premium-ization’ in today’s liquor brands,” Carroll responded when adobo asked Don Papa’s positioning. He stated that a significant number of the most popular liquor brands are those that are “of high quality, inside distinct packaging, and have a good story”. This is what prompted Carroll’s team to bring the spirit of a 19th century revolutionary back to life.
 
Dionisio Magbuelas, or more popularly known in Negros as “Papa Isio”, was a simple sugarcane farmer who lived during the Spanish era and rose up the ranks of a group of Negrense revolutionaries armed with guns, spears and enchanted amulets that they believed protected them from harm. Bestowing upon himself the rank of “Pope” as a statement of rebellion against Spanish authorities, Papa Isio won over a large following with radical concepts of spirituality, agrarian reform, and nationalism. From the foothills of Mount Kanlaon, he would lead the Babaylanes of Dios Buhawi to free the Negros region from Spanish rule during the Philippine Revolution of 1986, and continued to fight for independence during the time of the American Colonization. 
 
Papa Isio left his mark on Philippine history as the last Filipino revolutionary leader to surrender to the Americans. 
 
“He’s a lot of different ideas juxtaposed,” said BHRC marketing head Monica Llamas, a one-time model, event host and ad woman. Upon hearing his story from the Negrenses themselves, Llamas found Papa Isio “a perfect fit for the character we wanted to achieve for the brand. He inspired us”.
 
Thus, the Don Papa brand was born.

 

Words Mark Dantes | as featured in the March/April 2013 issue of adobo magazine 

For the full story, grab a copy of adobo magazine's Anniversary Issue (March/April 2013).