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Don Papa Masskara

Back in the middle of January, Diageo acquired Don Papa for €260 million, with a further potential €177.5 million investment to be made between the time of purchase and the year 2028, subject to the spirit’s performance.

The news of the conglomerates – who we mainly know as whisky companies – paying more attention to rum or sugarcane-based spirits drinks may be a shock to most. But it may not be a shock to those who have been paying attention to rum. Over the years, the big boys have been acquiring rum brands. This only makes sense as a lot of whisk(e)y drinkers have slowly been getting into malternatives, like rum, since it’s been getting hard to get the bottles one wants due to the lack of availability, or being priced out.

Here are the ones I know of: in 2019, Campari acquired Martinique agricole rhum brands Trois Rivières, La Mauny, and Duquesne, despite already owning Jamaican rum brands Appleton and Wray & Nephew. LVMH launched their own Cuban rum brand called Eminente in 2020. In the most recent news before this one, Brown-Forman acquired Diplomatico in October of 2022.

There’s Pernod Ricard, which has been distributing Havana Club for the longest time. As if having Havana Club wasn’t enough, they’ve also acquired majority stakes in Colombian rum La Hechicera in 2021. Heck, even Sazerac has gotten into rum by buying Myers from Diageo and selling it as a single barrel finished in ex-Sazerac rye casks. Other than this, Sazerac also started a new brand of sourced Caribbean rum called Jung & Wulff.

Aside from this Don Papa acquisition, Diageo also signed a deal to distribute Ron Santiago de Cubainternationally in 2019. Diageo already has Captain Morgan, which is popular for their spiced rum, and Ron Zacapa, which has become notorious due to their using the number 23 as a fake age statement, and addition of sweeteners.

Some might think all of these acquisitions are good for the category of rum, because they will mean better distribution, hence better awareness… which will lead to more rum or “rum” being drunk more. While it may ring true for honest brands like the ones acquired by Campari, I don’t entirely see it that way, especially when dishonest brands like Diplomatico and Don Papa are being promoted as “premium” rum. Because of the high amount of added sugar the regular Don Papa expressions have, the new EU rum regulations doesn’t even allow it to be labeled as rum anymore. It’s labeled as a spirit drink.

I’ve expressed my disdain for these two brands because they don’t disclose the amount of additives they add. The only premium aspects of these two brands are their packaging, marketing and – in some cases – pricing. There is nothing premium about the quality of contents of brands like these. Their being promoted as premium rums will only confuse the already mostly confused consumers. Quoting Foursquare’s Richard Seale, “The holy grail for the big multinationals is a product that can be mass produced but sold for a premium price – hence the need for vodka brands and gin brands in the portfolio.”

There’s this age-old question that still gets asked: “Even though it’s sweetened, isn’t it good that they’re drinking rum?” A lot of industry people’s age-old counter – including mine – is still “what if they find out it’s sweetened and stick to products like these?”

Another worrying thing is this trend might discourage new and/or smaller rum producers from putting out quality rum. Instead, it might persuade them into making these dishonest rums that cut corners. After all, starting small brands and/or distilleries to flip to larger companies has become a business model ever since craft distilling became more of a thing, especially in the US.

Now, imagine your future “premium” Diageo whisky brands having the possibility of being aged or finished in ex-Don Papa barrels. The horror. The waste.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to buy a full bottle of this. My local favorite online store started selling 30ml samples of this during the holidays. It cost me around USD $3.

Don Papa Masskara – Review

40% ABV. €54.17 from Excellence Rhum. USD $26 locally.

Color: Amber.

On the nose: I get unnaturally sweet and fruity aromas. There are these coherent fruity floral aromas that makes me think of Korean pears, pineapple syrup, banana flavored candy, a sweetened drink with lemons and apples mixed with caramel and honey.

In the mouth: Sugar bomb. There’s this lingering peppery texture that’s enveloped by an overwhelming sweetness. I get incoherent tastes of pineapples, pineapple skin, toffee, caramel, Korean pears, and honey. This also makes me think of the Juicy Fruit chewing gum. (for the sake of sentimentality, is it even still around?) Editor’s note: yes!

After I spit it out, there are these lingering tastes of caramel, toffee, limoncello and Mentos.

Conclusions:

I get the appeal of this to the less informed drinker. Like in mass produced food brands and beverages, the sweetness entices a person. The sweet character makes it easy to drink and enjoy. But you won’t be enjoying the hangover you get from drinking artificially flavored stuff like this.

The kind of flavors I get here can’t even be found in the most well-made distillates that give off lots of fruit flavors like grappa, and some pot distilled rum. It’s just unnatural. Even aging a spirit in new oak won’t get you this kind of sweetness.

If I get diagnosed with diabetes or if my palate gets ruined by this in the long run, can I ask Malt to help with my recovery?

Score: 1/10

Image courtesy of Excellence Rhum.

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