The “world’s first sin­gle-is­land rum from the Philip­pines”, Don Papa Rum, has launched in the coun­try, as the South African craft spir­its move­ment gath­ers pace


South African rum-lovers are in for a treat as the days of a cou­ple of non­de­script bot­tles be­ing wedged on the brandy shelf as an af­ter­thought are fast fad­ing.

Don Papa is the lat­est rum brand to ar­rive on these shores and is sure to find trac­tion among lo­cal con­sumers, with its ac­ces­si­ble and invit­ing caramel- and vanilla-scented flavour pro­file.

Don Papa is dis­tilled from sugar cane from the Filipino is­land of Ne­gros, which pro­duces some of the sweet­est mo­lasses in the world. It’s then aged in Amer­i­can oak bar­rels for over seven years, be­fore be­ing blended.

The Philip­pines is the third-big­gest rum mar­ket in the world af­ter In­dia and the USA (some 18 mil­lion cases are con­sumed an­nu­ally) and the Asian coun­try shares a num­ber of sim­i­lar­i­ties with SA, in­clud­ing its cli­mate and vi­brant drink­ing cul­ture.

For for­mer Remy Martin Mar­ket­ing Chief Stephen Car­roll, a visit to Ne­gros and hear­ing “sto­ries of an is­land that had every­thing; from the world’s finest sugar cane to beau­ti­ful beaches, moun­tains and vol­ca­noes… even gueril­las in the hills!” while on a six­month sab­bat­i­cal in 2011 was all it took to con­sol­i­date his idea of the brand.

To­gether with Filipino mar­ket­ing master­mind An­drew Gar­cia and later, French­man Matthias

Cadeac D’Ar­baud, a for­mer rock star and the brand’s in­ter­na­tional am­bas­sador, Car­roll set about estab­lish­ing the Bleed­ing Heart Rum Com­pany out of a 3m2 of­fice in Manila. Over the past five years, the reach of Don Papa has spread over Europe and Asia – and now Africa.

“I have good mem­o­ries of SA while work­ing in multi-na­tion­als. We saw an op­por­tu­nity to in­tro­duce a dif­fer­ent kind of rum to the mar­ket and have part­nered with Tru­man Or­ange lo­cally.

Rum is a ver­sa­tile spirit with an easy-to-un­der­stand man­u­fac­tur­ing process, and ev­ery rum has a dis­tinct sense of place and prove­nance, which is help­ing drive its rise,” says Car­roll, adding that the trio worked hard to over­come ini­tial lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges.

“Lost is­lands, vol­ca­noes, pi­rates – there are no bor­ing sto­ries about rum!” quips D’Ar­baud.

Be­sides the mer­its of its sweet taste, which is akin to a blast of trop­i­cal sun­shine and lends an edgy note to rum stan­dards like Cuba Li­bres and Mo­ji­tos, Don Papa also has its award-win­ning pack­ag­ing to trum­pet. The bot­tle is from France, the cork from Por­tu­gal, the la­bel from Italy and the brand im­age of Dion­i­sio Mag­bue­les, also known as “Papa” Isio, has seen the brand gar­ner a num­ber of de­sign and in­no­va­tion awards. Cer­tainly, Isio’s im­age is the kind you’d use for a tattoo or a

T-shirt to gain the ap­proval of a dis­cern­ing hip­ster.

“Papa Isio was ini­tially a fore­man at a sugar plan­ta­tion. He was also a healer, a shaman and a seer, whose spirit and lead­er­ship played a crit­i­cal part in free­ing Ne­gros from Span­ish rule, ul­ti­mately lead­ing to the in­de­pen­dence of his beloved coun­try,” ex­plains D’Ar­baud.

In a just a few short years, Don Papa has at­tained a global pro­file. What’s the se­cret of the trio’s brand­build­ing suc­cess? “Stick to your vi­sion, but don’t be afraid to take risks. Use a bal­ance of qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive in­for­ma­tion wisely to make de­ci­sions and un­der­stand the end con­sumer. Peo­ple will want to en­gage with you in dif­fer­ent ways, so cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment which al­lows for that,” ad­vises Gar­cia.

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