Cocktail GoGo & Brugal Rum!
5th generation distiller Gustavo Ortega flew in from the Dominican Republic and Brugal’s Brand Developer Juan Campos teamed up to teach us about their current and newest releases. Before the “education” part of the day started, everyone met up in the back of Forbidden Island.
When you go around to the back of the building, there’s a little tiki area set up with floral patterned couches, umbrellas, walnut chairs and of course a tiki doll or two. Lunch consisted of some polynesian cuisine and a few Rum cocktails, definitely an inviting scene for someone still waking up after a night at the bar.
The bartenders from Forbidden Island were shaking and stirring up three different cocktails: Rum Old Fashioneds, a Marichal Juana (a riff on the classic mamajuana) and the classic Hemingway Daiguiri. Unfortunately, I only got to enjoy two of them since I had to go to work right after the event.
Marichal Juana: Named after the famous Dominican Republic pitcher Juan Marichal (played for the S.F. Giant’s!). It’s made with Brugal Anejo Rum, Cocchi Americano, lime juice, black walnut bitters and a house made honey syrup. The syrup is made with mint, green mate, star anise, clove, pineapple and local Alameda honey. The cocktail was absolutely fantastic. Semi sweet and creamy which really helped to coat the tastebuds. You can taste all of the spices in the honey and the black walnut bitters is something I had really never tried before. The Anejo Rum has nice complexity of caramel, cinnamon, vanilla and some cocoa. When you’re going in for your first sip, really dig your nose into the garnish, consisting of mint sprigs, lime and cinnamon stick. It completes the whole experience!
Rum Old Fashioned: Very classic cocktail, although it is usually made with Bourbon or Rye. Probably my favorite cocktail of the day due its simplicity, but taste as well. Made with Brugal Extra Viejo Rum, bitters, sugar and muddled orange peel and a cherry. This extra aged Rum works perfectly with the bitters and the caramel and vanilla flavors dance wonderfully together. It’s always nice to have a boozey backed cocktail that doesn’t burn or kill your palate.
After our little meet and greet, everyone was escorted inside of the Island. When you walk in, it’s kind of like entering a menacing cave that’s so pitch black you can barely see your hand in front of your face. As some light creeps inside the bar, the ceilings are extremely low, covered in little tiki drink umbrellas and $1 bills. Tiki dolls large and small adorn the bar and the bamboo furniture. The little waterfall fountain in the corner adds to the freeing feeling and serenity that you’re on vacation and about to enjoy a cocktail or seven in paradise.
Once we all got situated, Juan and Maestro Gustavo got started on the “educational” portion of the afternoon. I recommend giving yourself a nice pour of Brugal Rum and enjoy it while you’re reading. It really ties everything in and you can get away with it. I was never able to pull off sneaking a flask into my college lecture halls.
Brugal has been producing Rum for 123 years in the Dominican Republic. The family recipe is a well kept secret and has only been passed down to 5 different “Maestro’s” or “Master Blenders”.
Production, Fermentation & Distillation
Brugal is produced from molasses. The sugar cane that Brugal buys is from 3 locally farmer owned and sourced cane fields. All of the materials that go into the Rum come from the Domincan Republic. Once the cane has been cut, it’s shipped to San Pedro on the Southeast of the island to the distillery. As the different styles of sugar are separated, Brugal saves the molasses with a rich 55-60% sugar content.
One of the many ways that Brugal stays unique in their production style is with their own yeast strains that they make. Yeast and molasses are combined to start the fermentation process. Remember that high sugar content The higher the sugar, the better the reaction between the yeast and molasses to convert into alcohol.
After the sugars have been converted to alcohol, it’s time to start the distillation process. Gustavo is looking for the purest and cleanest forms of alcohol to bring out the best flavor possible in his Rums. The Maestro approves everything and then he orders all of the Rum to be transported North to Porto Plata where it will be diluted and stored.
Aging & Blending
The first of two dilutions brings the alcohol content of the Rum from 95% ABV down to 65% ABV. Now the Rum is ready to be aged in white American oak. The 180 liter casks have been used once for Bourbon production and will impart color and woody flavor to the finished products. The oak casks are never pre-treated or refinished. Casks are used anywhere from 3 to 7 times (depending on the Rum style) for a maximum of 15 years of use. Having 250,000 barrels on the property help Brugal to sell 4 million cases of Rum a year and this makes them the third largest Rum brand in the world.
Rums are aged anywhere from 1 to 8 years in casks. By Dominican law, the minimum aging is 1 year. Due to Angel’s Share loss, 8 years is the maximum amount of resting time in the barrels. Gustavo was saying that there is around 8% to 12% evaporation loss per year. The main culprits are the 85F-95F temperature and 85% humidity in the warehouse. It’s pretty amazing and sad to hear that after the aging there’s about 30% of the barrel left (and sometimes there’s an empty barrel, surprise!). It’s illegal for any distillery to refill any barrels once they have begun to age. Dominican government literally has keys to every Rum warehouse on the island. Can I please have his job Rum would dissappear……I mean “evaporate” a lot faster.
Every cask is different in color, appearance and flavor. Aged Rums are only blended by the Maestro since he knows how each mark should look, smell and taste. He formulates the blend and then does a second dilution to achieve the right ABV for the market it will be released in (U.S. has 40% ABV, Spain has 46% ABV for example). Miniscule amounts of carmel coloring (natural burnt sugar) will be added. By miniscule I mean practically nothing. For every 18,000 liters of Rum only 3 to 5 liters of coloring will be added.
The blends are put into resting tanks for 6 to 30 days. Gustavo is looking for a harmonious blend and balance in aroma, flavor and smoothness. Once he samples and stamps his approval on the Rums, they will be bottled and sold.
Tasting & Marks Seminar
Definitely the most fun part of the day. I mean I get to sip on some Rum Old Fashioneds during the so-called lecture and then I get to try all 4 releases ! Not a bad job, eh
Brugal Blanco (Brugal Especial):
This Blanco has been triple filtered through carbon to extract the color. It has been aged 1 to 2 years and is 40% ABV. The color is clear and transparent. It smells clean, soft and of tropical fruits. Once the Rum hits your palate, toffee, coffee show up to party. It’s delicate and has a quick, smooth finish.
A 2 to 5 year old blend range, diluted down to 40% ABV. Amber and burnt orange in color. On the nose there is vanilla, chocolate, oak and orange peel. The palate has an oak introduction accompanied by dark chocolate, caramel and some bitter orange peel. It’s mid-bodied with a dry finish.
40% ABV works perfectly with this 3 to 8 year old blend of Rums. Dark amber and rich toffee color. There are aroma’s of wood, dried fruit and nuts and some cinnamon. As the Rum hits your tongue there’s a sweet explosion of caramel, toffee, cocoa and coffee bean. It starts very creamy and full bodied and coats your tongue. As it finishes, it ends long and dry on the back palate. Since this Rum is a little drier than traditional aged Rums I have tasted, I think it would be perfect to use in cocktails with lighter sugar bases. This is most likely why it could substitue for a Bourbon or Rye, like it did in the Old Fashioned.
Everyone was extremely fortunate to have tasted the 1888. We were the first people on the west coast to taste Brugal’s newest release. The 40% ABV content suits this style well. It has been aged 6 to 8 years in oak, but is then aged once more in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks for another 2 to 4 years. The Sherry helps to impart a dark red color to the Rum. As you move your nose around the glass, you can pick up sweet oak, raisins, banana and dried fruit. The Rum dances around your palate and is quite unique. Oak and wet wood start the waltz and as it picks up, vanilla, caramel and banana join in on the fun. Dried fruit and baking spices show up to crash and raisins help to slow it down. On the finish, it’s long and mildly dry. By far my most favorite mark of the day. It’s really hard to describe how good this Rum is unless you can actually go out there and get it.
The day turned out to be phenomenal. The event was a few hours well spent with some great people and tasty libations. All of the expressions here are now fully available, although the 1888 may be harder to find since it was just released.