Those who know how I like my rum will probably wonder if they woke up in an alternate reality upon reading this review. A Don Papa review by moi? If you asked the geeky rum community or someone from the Manila bar industry, they will probably have heard of my disdain toward this deceivingly silky sweet-toothed brand. Their reaction would be the equivalent of finding out, I eat people’s innards after chopping them up in my basement.
Relax. This is not your regular Don Papa. Yes, it comes adorned with a consistently genius Stranger and Stranger label. But the Bleeding Heart Company claims this release is not sweetened. Did they call this rare cask, because they actually invested in good casks? Quality vessels that make them confident enough, not find the need to flavor the shit out of their “rum”?
Oscar Wilde once said that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. I think this quote applies very well to Don Papa. Because the Malt readers are, I assume, mostly whisky drinkers. Therefore I feel obligated to give a short background on this sinner’s past. Otherwise I fear this will be seen by overly sensitive readers as just another snob disparaging a specific brand that I don’t agree with.
Don Papa is now widely perceived in the rum community as a rum liqueur, or spiced rum, parading as rum due to their fondness of over sweetening their rum. Their “premium” “rum” illusion was shattered years ago when people started lab testing rum they suspected to be sweetened. I really have to thank Cyril of Durhum for writing about Don Papa and other notoriously sweetened rum years ago. If you clicked the link, you will have seen that the Don Papa “7 years” does not only have added sugar, but also has added glycerine and vanillin. The brand likes to claim the color and flavors come from the aging. But even virgin American oak, which they don’t use, does not give off the kind of flavors they claim to be produced by aging. You can’t even expect that much vanilla flavor from a first fill ex-bourbon cask! Glycerine or Glycerol, a well-known laxative, is added to give the illusion of smoothness. Arguably to take advantage of the misinformed market, which believes that sweet and smooth rums represents a certain quality.
I have always suspected the Don Papa “7” to have unnatural flavors. The lab results in the Durhum and other Don Papa reviews made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. With my senses confirmed to be correct, I felt like Woody Harrelson’s character in the movie “2012”.
These revelations are not positive for everyone though. I can be sure that some Don Papa fans would have felt disappointment after learning of the truth. Filipinos are sometimes, to their misfortune, taken advantage of for being too proud and optimistic of Philippine owned and/or made products. To those who can comprehend the truth, I suspect the feeling will be similar to the victims of Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body or in “Teeth” i.e. a fantasy with no happy ending.
Despite their… transgressions, I have heard of opinions saying they are good for the rum scene. Some optimists claim they are making people consider rum. From a certain perspective, I can see that the only way is up. But this is something I don’t agree on. The rebuttal, simply being, what if these drinkers don’t move on from this “gateway” “rum”? It’s not like all Johnnie Walker drinkers move on to more full bodied single malts. Not all Macallan fan boys move on to more intrinsic value filled and complex brands like Springbank.
This is where I hope they become a saint in the future. This unsweetened “Rare Cask” release seems to be a ray of light amidst the darkness. Was this them listening to the geeky rum market? Can they continue to release skus like this? Will they? How long until they start another brand that will, finally, cater to the market who don’t like sweetened rum?
This newfound optimism isn’t too prime though. I will always be wary of this company. For instance, Bleeding Hearts advised the media that only released 6,000 bottles of this. 250 only in the Philippines. With 6,000 bottles how the hell did I get a bottle with the # 8693? I doubt this is fake, as I bought this straight from their distributor. They mention the use of STR (shave, toast and re-char) in the process. Was Jim Swan actually involved in this project? “Unblended – Unfiltered” How is a release of “6000” bottles achieved without blending? Is this their own way of saying single malt quality? Is this their way of looking more “premium” by using terms that might appeal to whisky drinkers? Is this taking advantage of the “rum has no rules” myth? Ultimately it is shenanigans like these that make informed buyers avoid dishonest brands.
Don Papa Rare Cask – review
On the nose: Reminiscent of Demerara rum. Strong scents of smoke, raisin-y pot still funk. Followed by hints of dusty wood furniture, baking spices, sage and thyme. Bubble gum, Febreze pine or some air freshener with a refreshing note and some Muscat grapes.
In the mouth: Muscat grape peel, baking spices, lavender, and Febreze pine. Glimmers of pulsating Demerara pot still funk and some old furniture notes.
Their heavy use of e150 to promote an illusion of new superior casks was expected. The fiery nose is very surprising and interesting. It’s the first time I got any sort of air freshener note on any spirit. Despite being “unfiltered” and 50.5%, it feels more like a very flat 43% abv spirit in the mouth. It lacks the oiliness an NCF single malt exhibits. Unfiltered of bullshit perhaps?
The Lone Caner’s review on this is spot on, regarding a Demerara rum feel to it. This makes me wonder whether Don Papa utilised casks, which used to hold Demerara rum? Or did they source some Demerara rum and blended it along with some Ginebra rum?
For $80, I will not buy this again. This is a super silky smooth hard pass over the highway to hell in an attempt to reach a stairway to heaven.
Despite my obvious disdain for the brand, I’m going to say I hope Bleeding Hearts keep releasing unsweetened rum… but not this expensive. It can show they don’t need to sweeten whatever it is they make. It’s just a matter of them choosing between integrity, or profit at some point. As a producer, when will they stop relying heavily on marketing and more on the quality of the product? How long will they reside on the foundation they have built with added sugar? There are too many questions that I will most likely not get answers to. Insert that usual saying about what grunts are fed and where they are kept.
Lead image kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.