When it comes to rum, you can’t let the Western Hemisphere have all the fun. Shoring up that gap is Don Papa, a dark rum from the Philippines that is just making landfall in the United States.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Pacific island nation is making rum: turns out that sugarcane was a thing in Southeast Asia before it was brought to the New World. The sugar cane used to make Don Papa is a distinct species of the crop called noble cane, and it’s much sweeter than its Caribbean counterpart.
Once that noble cane has been turned to molasses, Don Papa is aged for up to seven years in oak barrels. The aging process gets a considerable assist from the humid climate of the Philippines.
So, what kind of rum does this actually make? For starters, it’s possibly the most aromatic spirit I’ve ever poured. Its aroma of fried plantain, burnt sugar and bubblegum is detectable a good eight inches away from the glass. It pours a ruddy, reddish-brown.
The first thing you’ll notice is sweetness. This is a sweet rum, and may be cloying to some. If you’re the kind of drinker that avoids rum based on that quality, you’ll want to skip Don Papa.
But there’s much more to it than the saccharine starter notes of bubblegum. It has a thick, creamy mouthfeel, and turns to rich butterscotch when it hits the center of the palate. A hint of spice emerges at the back, but the conclusion is dominated by a long, unique citrus finish recalling fresh-squeezed lime.
I wasn’t sold on my first sip, largely due to the sweetness. But as I tasted Don Papa, I further appreciated its unique character. This is not rum as you’ve known it.
— 40% ABV
Ed. note: Don Papa is a controversial rum, as evidenced by some of the comments below. The bottle states that it’s “manufactured” (not distilled) by Ginebra San Miguel, Inc., a company that makes a popular Philippine gin. Don Papa’s website explicitly states that the rum is distilled and then “aged in the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon” for seven years before being charcoal-filtered and blended. And yet, several rum enthusiasts assert that Don Papa isn’t real rum, and is in fact just neutral cane alcohol flavored with sugar, glycerine and other ingredients to create that sweet taste and silky mouthfeel. At this stage, we’re not entirely sure what to believe. We’ve reached out to the brand for comment, and will update this post with their response.