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Food and Leisure

A spirited homecoming for a pinoy rum master

THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau - The Philippine Star
A spirited homecoming for a pinoy rum master
Cocktails from The Gentlemen’s Companion (1939) were concocted with Bacardi for the event at The Spirits Library.

The night gets underway with Lee Watson, owner of The Spirits Library in Poblacion, purveyor of rare books, bottles and spirits, stepping onstage behind the bar and hoisting a large volume: it’s Charles Baker’s The Gentlemen’s Companion (1939), from which the night’s three cocktails were concocted. Watson points out that a large number of its recipes were made from Filipino rum.

Perhaps the most spirited is the 100-year-old “World Famous Quarantine Cocktail,” recreated tonight using Bacardi Carta Blanca, Bombay Sapphire Gin, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, orange, egg white, and absinthe mist. It’s the bomb, but so are the Pancho Villa (named after the first Asian World Flyweight Champion) and Leave It To Me, a mix of Bacardi Carta Oro, Luxardo Maraschino, raspberry liqueur and soda that was reportedly tucked in the bar book of a US infantry major stationed at Fort McKinley back in the day.

So, a bit of history is par for the course at The Spirits Library. And history is actually made tonight, as Astrophel “Troy” Arquiza, Bacardi’s first Filipino Global Master Blender (or “Maestro de Ron”) is given a homecoming welcome (here’s here on family vacation). The maestro is a title given to those who reach the highest echelon of Bacardi tasters, entrusted with the top-secretest of rum-mixing secrets. In his new role, Arquiza joins a prestigious family of Master Blenders and Master Distillers including Stephanie Macleod (Dewar’s Blended Scotch whisky), Anne Brock (Bombay Sapphire gin), David Rodriquez (Patron tequila), Beppe Musso (Martini vermouth), and François Thibault (Grey Goose vodka), all in the Bacardi portfolio.

Arquiza describes his Filipino origins as a Mapua-educated industrial engineer as humble, earning just enough for lunch and parking fare each day, but now he’s the man of the hour. First recruited to the Bahamas and then Puerto Rico as an engineer — at first not knowing it was for Bacardi — he gained the trust and respect of his global colleagues. “Being Pinoy, risk-taking, no?” he says of his choice to uproot halfway around the world and dive into all aspects of rum production.

His journey with Bacardi has lasted 25 years, training under past Maestro de Ron and industry legend Jose “Joe” Gomez, and he now takes over that prestigious role, ensuring that Bacardi follows the same exacting standards first set forth in Santiago de Cuba by Don Facundo Bacardi Masso some 160 years ago.

Astrophel “Troy” Arquiza now takes over as the first Filipino Global Master Blender for Bacardi spirits.

In Casa Bacardi’s largest distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico, Arquiza heads up a team of rum blenders, overseeing the distillation and aging of Bacardi rum, developing new innovations for their dynamic rum category and sharing his passion and skills in nurturing the future generation of Master Blenders.

It was his engineering techniques to boost rum production that first caught Bacardi’s eye (lowering the number of vats from 110 to 37). But taste was also a crucial factor. So how did he develop a world-class level of taste?

“In my case, a lot of drinking, a lot of tasting,” he says. “We would start at 9 a.m., Monday through Friday, and you start developing a taste for the product. It’s like you’re building up your book of taste: the wider your experiences, the better you’ll be able to discern and your taste buds will develop.”

One result was Eximo, one of the most perfectly blended and aged reservas in Bacardi’s line, which we all sample at the bar.

Having an engineering background is important for the “fundamentals” of rum distilling and aging, but his natural inquisitiveness was key. “I do observe a lot. I ask, ‘Why are we doing it this way? Can we do it with a much better, shorter, more efficient process?’ That’s the industrial engineer in me.”

Asked what his world-class nose looks for in a rum, Arquiza says, “When you bring it to your nose, depending on your experience, you will be able to pick up the small nuances in it, be it woodiness, be it nice caramel, butterscotch, or let’s say, cooked apricot.”

As for mouth-feel, he looks for “the nice, balanced, buttery sweetness and overall feeling that you have in your mouth” from premium rums like Bacardi Eximo, Reserva Ocho, Gran Reserva Diez and the Facundos. “In my case, I like the full body that envelops and drops in the mouth; the lingering. It’s like the burst of character happens in your mouth and lingers a little bit, and entices you to take the next sip.”

For proud Filipinos gathered here to fete the homegrown maestro, taking the next sip is not a problem.

RUM

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