Whilst Don Q rum isn’t globally as popular as giants Havana Club or Captain Morgan’s for example, it appears to be more respected by those-in-the-know. To find out for myself, I decided to attend a comprehensive blending masterclass with Don Q’s Rum’s Master Blender Jaiker Soto and Global Brand Ambassador Alexx Mouzouris at RumFest 2018.
Rumshopboy says: ‘Alexx is rightly proud of Don Q rums. They are light in style but Don Q produces good quality and honest rums proving that multi column stills can produce tasty rums when handled correctly‘.
The RumFest advertising spin read ‘immerse yourself in the exceptionally eco-friendly Puerto Rican rums, before creating your very own blend to take home. Discover why Don Q is one of the most environmentally responsible distilleries in the Caribbean: the only thing lower than its environmental impact is the added sugar level – of which there is none‘.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
- La Familia Serralles is a 6th generation rum-producing family from Puerto Rico.
- Puerto Rico means ‘Rich Port’.
- The island inherited the port’s name whilst the port was renamed Puerto de San Juan after the saint of the island.
- During prohibition, Puerto Rico was the only Caribbean island prohibited from making rum. This was due to the inhabitants voting 7 to 10 in favour of remaining part of the US – America’s 51st state.
- The Don Q brand was introduced in 1932.
- Don Q is short for Don Quixote, a fictional character who featured in the novel ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha’ by Miguel de Cervantes. A film, loosely based on Don Quixote’s life was released in 2018, 29 years after director Terry Gilliam’s first attempt. As well as a catastrophic fire, previous film attempts saw the death of two male leads.
- The popularity of rum was helped along by the Tiki movement that started in California in the 1930s. This sentimentalised version of the South Pacific – or “a Polynesian version of Adam & Eve” as our host described it – was [aside from being an escapist movement born from anti-US sentiment], also a cocktail movement.
- Don Q rum remains the official rum of the Hilton Hotel Pina Colada. Apparently, Barrachina’s version is a total fake which isn’t surprising news [WLP]. Further reading: Alexx recommended The history of Pina Colada by Jared Brown.
“What do you need to make rum?”, asks Jaiker Soto. There’s a collective shout of “molasses”. Shocked & unduly embarrassed, I react with a displeasing “whoa” sound – and to think some of these guys come to Rumfest every year! I can picture Luca waving his arms around and screaming.
Jaiker confirms my belief that sugar cane is the heart of rum. Having established this, it’s then confirmed that Don Q actually use molasses [ha], a syrup especially created by & for the industry much like the standard dried yeast used for brewing and distilling in the beer and whisky industries. It’s refreshing at least, to hear that Don Q are open about the fact that their production is all about yield, and that they don’t use added sugar in their final product.
Don Q still use an old family yeast strain passed down through the generations, though in what proportion and in what expressions I know not.
- [Pot] copper stills erode over time. Copper after the war [I’m guessing that’s the Spanish-American war of 1898-1901 followed by both World Wars] was in short supply. As a result, stills at Destileria Serrallés were built piece by piece as and when copper became available. Destileria Serrallé’s cobbled column requires constant maintenance using the same patch-work replacement methods to this day.
- thefatrumpirate says: ‘all Don Q rums are produced using column distillation. All the rum is distilled 5 times,…’
- In 2017, a hurricane devastated the La Familia Serralles estate. Further reading: TSB
- The Destileria Serrallés that makes Don Q rum produces 270000 litres of spirit a day [at time of writing], with further expansions pending. According to Carribbeanbusiness, ‘The investments made in infrastructure allow Serrallés to continue to expand bulk-rum production to 22 million gallons‘ .
- To be called Puerto Rican rum, the spirit must be aged for a minimum of one year. Don Q use 10000 bourbon casks for every 10 [Duff Gordon] sherry cask, much of this bourbon cask predominance down to geographical logistics.
Also discussed was colouring. At Don Q, charcoal filtering is used to remove colour. Jaiker says the rum industry as a whole went too far the other way, producing super-dark black rum which he [rightly] finds disingenuous.
Let’s get down to some tasting and blending.
Don Q’s best seller is aged for between 18 months-5 years and has been severely charcoal-filtered to remove any colour.
- N: Virtually nothing.
- T: Almost as soft as Bimber’s London Vodka [WLP].
- F: Sugary-sweet vodka.
- C: Far too neutral for sipping interest.
No score [less than 75 points]
- N: No nose again aside from black pepper.
- T: Some semblance of a mouthfeel compared to the Crystal.
- F: A little bitter touch, a hint of cask influence riding just under the spirit.
- C: Little to talk about.
No score [less than 75 points]
- N: Finally something of a nose, but aside from ‘creamy’, I made no further notes.
- T: Here we see cask influence bringing some relative interest.
- F: Pleasing sweet vanilla and peppery rice paper.
- C: Finally, we’re on the scoreboard.
Scores 76 points
This is the Anejo with a drop or two of old rum from their solera.
thefatrumpirate says: ‘The stopper is sealed initially with a paper ribbon which leads down to a rather strange “medal” on the neck of the decanter. The medal is a Five Star Diamond Award from The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences (wtf?). I’m not entirely sure what to make of it to be honest‘.
- N: Creamier than the Anejo.
- T: The drop or two of Don Q’s solera rum has provided some structure. The Anejo with body is pretty much where this one is at.
- F: A slight herbal touch.
- C: ‘Smooth’ personified with little detail. One more notch.
Scores 77 points
Talking of the solera, we all get to try a drop. Literally a drop!
Don Q Solera  Un-Ob. ’53yo’ solera sample 60%
- N: A herbal bitter oak digestif.
- T: Seriously old oaky notes,…
- F: ,.. but little spirit left to talk of.
- C: Fascinating. This will come in handy later for the blending.
Does a ‘spiced’ moniker ever bode well for spirits? That aside, here we’ve a rum aged 3-6 years and bottled at 45% abv, giving rise to some optimism.
- N: Icecream in a glass.
- T: Icecream moving through to the wafer on the turn.
- F: Finishes with a Mr Whippy and a few confectionary sprinkles.
- C: It’s not my bag, but rumdiariesblog offers a useful perspective: ‘We don’t consume much spiced rum here anymore, but when we do, this is one of our 3 go to offerings. Better than 95% of spiced rums on the market’.
No score [less than 75 points]
If you’re making rather neutral spirit, you might need all the help you can get with regards to flavour, so why not finish it with any-which-way wet cask you want? This is 5 to 8-year-old rum finished for 4 to 6 weeks in a 600-litre Mancino Vecchio [RD] vermouth cask.
- C: I can’t decide who’ll like this more [or less], rum fans or vermouth fans? Initially, it was a no-go, but then I came round to its uniqueness and the quality of the previous vermouth contents. Let’s put it on the board.
Scores 75 points
[Don Q] Caliche  Ob. 40% RR4.9
Again, bottled at 40%, this one comes with a vague story over content. Wiki tells us ‘Caliche is a sedimentary rock, a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate that binds other materials—such as gravel, sand, clay‘.
- N: There’s a vague something here but I’m not sure what.
- T: Bready/grainy-soft.
- F: A creamier/buttery grainy-dry mouthfeel develops.
- C: Non-offensive juice that I quite liked in the circumstances.
Scores a near miss
One more then.
Don Q 151˚  Ob. 75.5%
- C: This is hardcore [Speyside Distillery-esque] spirit. Even with water, I find this ghastly with no redeeming features. I’m no expert in this field, but If you’re looking for bio-ethanol for your cocktails, you might rather go for Wray & Nephew.
No score [less than 75 points]
THE ART OF BLENDING
We are given access to Don Q ‘medium’ [high strength, full-bodied rum] and Don Q ‘light’ [light in style, high in strength] as well as up to 1ml [each] from the solera. We are encouraged to add some water to consolidate the blend.
My 100ml recipe is as follows:
- 45ml Don Q medium
- 44ml Don Q light
- 1ml [5 drops] of solera
- 10ml water
I could have been a blender. My blend wins me a bottle of Don Q’s Vermouth.
Don Q Rumfest Blend  WLP approx. 53.7% [10cl]
I estimate this to come in at around 53.7% abv.
- N: This is a firm vegetal-fruit-sweet cocktail in a glass. The fruity fudgy raisin-y aspect speaks of Garibaldi biscuits with lychee syrup, a hint of falernum, raspberry, lime & vanilla icecream, a spray of furniture polish with a minuscule drop of Swarfega dropped onto a toasted hot cross bun, crushed nut [pecans & almond] croissants, sugary-grassy-aged-rich vanilla-custard pastries… this is a cracking start.
- T: Shortly after I blended it, unrelated to the nose, this talked of a plastic-y, dusty bitter-sour thread which was hard to enjoy. At the heart, there’s a wooden/meaty/nutty note. More than a year later it has become far richer/consolidated with a deliciously mature grain whisky likeness similar to Velier’s beautiful Destino [WLP]. Stays on track, firm and true until a succulent savoury-sweet grassy tamed heat appears, taking us into the finish. That one drop of ultra-aged solera juice was hugely influential.
- F: Remaining rich and simple, it’s far less industrial and sour than when it was first blended. At the death, soft ethanol appears to speak of Don Q’s underlying spirit character.
- C: This took a good year to settle, but settle it did. The irony is, the two cask strength blending rums we used were better than all the official releases, making my blend the best Don Q rum I’ve tried.
Scores 85 points, if I do say myself.
- On the one hand: no added colour, using old yeast strains, self-titled “traditional purists”.
- On the other: high-yield, heavily filtered, molasses-based column still rum, and with two exceptions, all bottled at 40%.
Confusing messages. It should be remembered, however, that these rums aren’t intended for sipping though some commentators might claim that Don Q’s Añejo and Gran Añejo are. You decide!