DOMINICAN RUM (part I): VISIT TO BRUGAL
Over a year ago, I gave a bit of input on how rum is made in St. Lucia, and some of my peers did the same about other Caribbean rums. Fortunately, life has been good to me and let me stay in the Caribbean, where, of course, I’ve visited a couple more rum producers. This time I went to the Dominican Republic.
La Hispaniola, the island, consists of two countries: Haiti, with French culture, and the Dominican Republic. After being dominated by France, Haiti and Spain over the years, and having accomplished independence in three different occasions, (in 1821; 1844 and 1863), clearly Spanish culture influenced the island the most.
Before going any further, there’s something I’d like to add to one of the most frequently told stories regarding Christopher Columbus bringing sugarcane to the Caribbean in his second journey in 1493, which did happen, although some details have been left out. I learned it in this post written by Pavol Kazimir where he mentions what Jared Brown wrote about it:
“According to Fernando Campoamor in his landmark 1985 book “El Hijo Alegre de la Caña de Azúcar”, Columbus brought sugarcane seedlings with him on his second voyage to the Caribbean in 1493. But there is a sad footnote to this milestone. The great explorer was unable to conduct the cultivation experiments he intended to perform in Hispaniola. The delicate plants did not survive the sea crossing. It was another seven years before Pedro di Atienza successfully imported and planted sugarcane seedlings on Hispaniola. It was then that the early settlers discovered sugarcane could flourish in the tropical Caribbean climate.
Jared Brown; Anistatia Miller; Dave Broom; Nick Strangeway (2009-05-29). Cuba: The Legend of Rum (Kindle Locations 97-101). Mixellany Ltd. Kindle Edition”.
So, getting back to Dominican rums… Being influenced by Spanish culture, one would think of its rums as light and dry. That is not false, rather incomplete, proving rum’s diverse character. In the case of Brugal, yes, it tends to be lighter and not as sweet and spicy as British or French rums. Yet you find a wide range of profiles in each bottling, making some of them move away from the plain-simple-light-dry cliché.
Having been founded in Cuba in 1888 by Andrés Brugal Montaner (a Spanish immigrant in Cuba), then moved to the Dominican Republic in 1897 as a consequence of the war with Spain, today their production is split in two facilities: the distillery, in San Pedro de Macorís, in the southeast, and the ageing warehouse, in Puerto Plata, in the northern part of the country, where the magic occurs within the casks.
The zafra (cane harvest) can take up to 9 months (between October and June). Brugal buys the molasses from local sugar factories in the south of the country (i.e. “Cristobal Colón” by Grupo Vicini in San Pedro or “Central Romana Co.” in La Romana) and stores it in 8 big tanks of about 1 million gallons each. All Brugal rums are 100 % molasses of 50-55 % sugar.
Fermentation usually occurs with a first step of about 24 hours in 5 propagation tanks, then the actual fermentation in another 6 tanks for 12 hours, to get an 8-8,5% ABV wash.
Distillation is 100% column still. Having three distilling plants within the facility, they manage to produce a total of 75,000 litres of alcohol (95 % ABV) daily, all year long, except for just 3-4 days, closed for maintenance:
3 columns producing 15,000 litres/day
2 columns producing 20,000 litres/day
2 columns producing 40,000 litres/day
Here 3 litres of molasses yield up to 1 litre of pure alcohol. All Brugal rums are made from one single “aguardiente”, meaning they distil only one spirit and then work with ageing and blending to craft their different expressions: White, Carta Dorada, Titanium, Añejo, Extra Viejo, XV, 1888, Siglo de Oro and Papa Andrés.
In an eco-friendly move, they use the remaining alcohol steam from the column still to pre-heat the next batch of wash to be distilled.
Ageing. So, all those gallons of 95% ABV spirit are sent daily to Puerto Plata, for ageing. They are diluted to a cask strength of 65% ABV with PH controlled water from the mountains of Puerto Plata.
The casks that are mostly used in Brugal rums are made from American White Oak and were previously used to store bourbon. Brugal manages two types of ageing:
(a) For OLD aged alcohol (3-8 years of ageing): casks held horizontally, so both ends of them stay wet and don’t lose their shape.
(b) For YOUNG aged alcohol (1-3 years of ageing): the barrels here are in vertical position. Apparently, during that short amount of time, they don’t lose shape and stay on pallets, easy to move around.
All of these are medium toast barrels and have a life of 18-20 years within which they’re used for up to a maximum of 3 fillings.
They have 14 warehouses, 7 of which are in their blending facility while the remaining 7 are in the old distillery area, outside of Puerto Plata, with a total of 250,000 barrels. The liquid is held in the barrel for up to 8 years, in order to minimize a bigger loss due to Angel’s Share (evaporation rate, which here is 8-12 %). Brugal rums aged for 12-14 years are double aged, meaning that they spend around 8 years in a barrel, and then are taken out and put back into another barrel filled to the top.
According to the law in the Dominican Republic, the liquid must be aged for at least a year for it to be considered rum, so that’s the youngest rum in the blend in any Brugal bottle. And depending on the market the ABV at bottling is different. For Europe it comes at 38% ABV, for the US in 40%, for D.R. it comes in 37,5%…
– Year production: 4 million cases.
– 30% of the production goes for export and 70% stays in the country.
– Brugal has 90% of the market share in the Dominican Republic.
Brugal rums in the market:
– 151 proof
– Carta Dorada: 1-2 y.o.
– Titanium: it’s a 2-5 y.o. rum filtered three times with active charcoal to leave it completely colourless, crystal clear. (My) tasting notes: on the nose, green, fresh, bitter almonds, citrus, clean. In the mouth, loyal to those green, fresh notes, citrusy, with a waxy, bitter finish.
– Añejo: also 2-5 y.o., brown, caramel colour. On the nose: raisins, raisins with chocolate, wet wood, honey. Mouthfeel: brine, high acidity, sweet spices, cinnamon, slightly chocolate, woody with a dry finish.
– Extra Viejo: it’s a formula from 1976. Blend of 3-8 y.o. rums. On the nose: on a first nose it seems floral, fresh, then it goes wet wood, musty, sweet, candy fruit. Mouthfeel: butter, medium dry, balanced spices, smooth, raisins, mid-high alcohol with a bitter almond finish.
– XV: released in December 2012, XV stands for the extra special by the fifth generation (of the family making Brugal). It’s 3-8 y.o. It carries a double-parallel ageing. Some rum ages in ex-bourbon barrels while some other ages in ex-Pedro Ximénez Sherry casks. Then blended. On the nose: raisins, wild red berries, leather, slightly vanilla, coconut. Mouthfeel: smooth, sweet, fruitcake, custard.
– 1888: aged for about 6-8 years in ex-bourbon white oak, blended at this point and then kept for up to 5 more years in ex-Oloroso Sherry red oak casks. Then blended again. On the nose: coffee, chocolate, ripe fruit, raisins, vanilla, very ripe banana, some leather. Mouthfeel: sweet entry, develops spiced, black pepper, chocolate, fresh and dry at the front of the mouth, sweet at the back, fruitcake.
– Siglo de Oro
– Papa Andrés
‘The views expressed above are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of WIRSPA Inc.’