Food and Leisure

The rum story: Don Papa charms the French

FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi - The Philippine Star

Amid all the chaos on the bus, a mishmash of screaming kids, laughing ladies, political talk and scratchy old music from a radio on the fritz, I stared past my reflection languidly outside the wide windows. Fields upon fields of green, gold and a tawny brown whizzed by like an endless old movie reel … a glimpse into a life in the not-so-distant past through the sugarcane’s typical uniform. The vivid, bright young leaves, tipped by slightly withered yellowish bits and anchored in a rich dark earth, it’s base strengthened over time, messy and wild with fallen foliage.

Not too far away was a small development of very chic homes, almost all built with that distinct covered porch, where one can imagine their ancestors on a rocking chair, moving gently in harmony with the rushing sound of wind that flows through the plantation.

We arrived at this large home surrounded by sugarcane fields and shaded by old, wizened trees. A charming house built in the typical mid-century style, with geometric trellises and balusters with paint that was charmingly peeling off. The house was built for the climate with large windows and verandas, high ceilings and a play of screens and sliding doors that allowed the air to circulate. The air there is always sweet. I’d like to imagine that it is the sweet sap from the sugarcane plantations that infuse the air, but it could also be all the sugary snacks that the aunts, great aunts and the thrice-removed cousins are consistently pushing your way, regardless of the time of day or how much you’ve already eaten. As we sipped on our 8-oz glass of bottled Coca-Cola, from those super-soft plastic straws whose walls stick together with every purposeful suction, time moved ever so slowly, as gossip and stories were shared with unadulterated open-heartedness. This is undoubtedly sugarcane country. This is Bacolod.

Every sip of Don Papa rum reminds me of those moments. The hot, sticky-sweet air, the grassy smell of freshly harvested cane, the pleasurable slowness of time … I can understand how the founder of Don Papa, Stephen Carroll, was so moved by this environment, so much so that he captured it in a bottle and shared it with the world.

There is rum, and then there is rum. Perhaps among all other alcoholic beverages, it is the one with the most exciting stories to tell. While perhaps for us it may not be so exotic, my long sojourn in Paris had led me to believe that there are no better rum lovers than the French. With old colonial ties to the Caribbean, the French drink their rum like history books. In a land where they can practically shake the hand of the farmer who grew the apples, the French like the stories behind the produce. They want to picture the little wooden hut on the sand, the swaying trees, the steel drum bands and sexy tropical music. On a cold, dreary, wet winter’s day in Paris where everything is awash in gray, they like to drink their rum in dark, toasty taverns, closing their eyes, transporting themselves to far-off exotic destinations haunted by the ghosts and adventures of swashbuckling pirates and explorers. By the bottle alone, Don Papa has this story to tell.

For a country that is consistently trying to move forward, keeping up with the proverbial Joneses, it is refreshing to have a product that fully embraces our past. From the label alone, an intricate design that tells the story of a local hero artfully infused with archetypes and motifs of our country’s rich history.

The product alone can stand for itself. Winning numerous awards this year it has gained a fantastic reputation in France, charming everyone. During my last trip there Frederic Bougeard, the international sales and business development director of the design fair Maison et Objets, was just as passionate about Don Papa rum as he was about Philippine design. Over lunch he gushed about its richness and sophistication, and more importantly about how each sip transports him back to the islands. His enthusiasm is shared by many, especially bar owners and more importantly, what they call les cavistes or wine and spirits merchants. Unlike in Asia where there are large-scale distributors, in France people have close ties with their caviste, trusting their expertise. This has resulted in Don Papa becoming the spirit in fashion all over Paris.

According to luxury wine and spirits blog C Saveurs Là, “Our first encounter with this rum was a very interesting experience for our editorial team. We have never tasted anything similar. To begin with it is from the Philippines, which throws off every prejudice about rum. The 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines give this rum its unique and interesting character that surprises by its finesse and expression. It draws us into a universe of bitter oranges where it is delicately met by vanilla and stewed fruit…”

Although Don Papa is clearly a product that will, no doubt, fare well internationally, Caroll had such a wonderful approach to its distribution. “When we launched Don Papa last year, we chose to do it in Bacolod, and then in Manila. We wanted to gain support from the Filipinos themselves before bringing it to the global market.”

The beauty of Don Papa lies in how intrinsically it is Filipino and how universal it is in its quality and refinement. Whereas not so long ago most companies often made the distinction between products for the local market and those for the international market, we are finally starting to come of age and realize that we, too, deserve the best of our products. The tides are definitely changing as we see more and more support for our own, using that as a strong launching pad for the rest of the world, fueled by our own brand of romanticism and history — the journey made sweeter with the perfect sip of rum.

Have a drink: El Niño Margarita at Chili’s

Don Papa black sand

“Inspired by the colors, sounds, textures and, of course, the wonderful atmosphere of Zambales. Black sand beaches by the sea, and rich green dense mountain forests. It’s an homage to the Philippines with a French touch.”

1 part Don Papa Rum

2 parts pineapple juice

1 part calamansi juice


Shake until the shaker sweats. Serve in a rock glass. Add crushed coffee beans and green pepper for garnish.

Don Papa old fashioned

“The old fashioned is an all-time classic cocktail, served in the best bars for over a century. This Don Papa-based Old Fashioned is designed to highlight Don Papa’s magnificence.”

5 cl Don Papa Rum

1 cl liquid brown sugar

1 drop maraschino

2 drops hopped grapefruit bitters

1 drop orange bitters

2 slices orange rind


Take a rock glass, cover the bottom with 1 cl liquid brown sugar.  Add 1 drop of maraschino, 2 drops of hopped grapefruit bitters, 1 drop of orange bitters and 5 cl Don Papa.  Add 2 slices of orange rind and slowly add ice to rim while stirring constantly. Serve.

The Don Papa Julep

“This goes right back to the origins of the word ‘julep,’ which comes from the Farsi word ‘galep.’ In Persian they use galep to mean ‘as easy to drink as orange blossom water.’ This variation on the classic mint julep is a fabulously refreshing drink and a wonderful expression of Don Papa’s versatility.”

5 cl Don Papa Rum

2 cl calamansi juice

2 cl liquid brown sugar

1 bunch mint leaves, including the stalks

2 lime leaves

Crush the mixture with a pestle in a shaker then shake until the shaker sweats.  Filter and serve in a long glass full of ice.  Garnish with a sprig of mint and add 2 drops of Thai bitters.









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