9 Apr 2020
How Don Papa Rum is Made

While production methods vary, there are seven basic steps to making rum. We did a case study of Don Papa Rum and discovered how crucial both science and the human element are when producing this increasingly popular spirit.


Transporting the harvested cane by oxen. © Kacper Dylak

Don Papa Rum is made from ‘cara morada’, a purple sugarcane varietal that’s grown on the island of Negros, known locally as Sugarlandia. This small, slender crop has a surprisingly pure sucrose content while being equally low in fibre, setting the stage for a superior juice.

The cane is farmed in a traditional manner, predominantly circumventing the need for pesticides or chemicals. Harvesting is similarly old school: the crop is hand cut with scythes and transported with the help of oxen. A labour-intensive process, the harvest season begins in October each year and ends some six or seven months later. 


Processing the cane in the sugar mill. © Kacper Dylak

Negros is home to several long-established sugar mills, harking back to the 1920s and 1930s. Through a veritable web of interconnected machines overseen by factory staff, these industrial units crush and grind the cane. The resulting juice is boiled into a thick, sticky and high quality golden molasses with a superior sucrose level, known as ‘black gold’.


The yeast used for fermentation. © Leah van Deventer

After being collected in vats, the molasses is transported to Bago Distillery and handed over to the master distiller and the fermentation team. They add yeast and water to it, and fermentation begins.

Fermentation is handled patiently with Don Papa. As opposed to the quick 24-hour approach used by many other rums, the liquid brews for up to three days to maximise the production of esters and other flavourful compounds.


A column still at Bago Distillery. © Kacper Dylak

At 8–9% ABV, what we have now is called a wort (basically a light beer). The master distiller adds the wort to a massive system of stainless-steel column stills with copper trays and begins continuous distillation, whereby the liquid is repeatedly heated and condensed. This complex process of evaporation separates out harmful compounds, and leaves behind the congeners, which will ultimately give the rum its fruity flavour.

The distiller then adds fresh spring water from nearby Mount Kanlaon to the 93.5% ABV new rum, diluting it to 63.5% ABV.


The maturation cellar. © Leah van Deventer

Under the watchful eyes of resident coopers, Don Papa rum is aged in one of two types of casks: ex-American bourbon oak barrels charred in medium to high toast or new shaved, toasted and roasted American oak barrels. The former produces light vanilla notes, while the latter allows for an uplift in fruity flavours; both give the liquid a lot of natural colour.

The duration the liquid is left in the barrels depends on which of the range it’s destined for. The longer it matures, the richer and darker it gets; there’s also more liquid lost with each passing year, as the angel’s share is a whopping 8–12% per annum in the hot climate of the Philippines. 


Checking the liquid. © Kacper Dylak

When the rum is sufficiently matured, it’s time to hand it over to the master blender – a vital team member whose excellent palate ensures consistency. The blender selects the best barrels from the two types, empties them and blends them to taste. They then add spring water to bring the rum down to 40% ABV.

The penultimate task is chill filtering the liquid through charcoal; this removes any last tannins and impurities, and makes for a smooth finish.


Barges used for transporting rum. © Leah van Deventer

Finally, the rum is pumped into vessels aboard barges, and shipped to Manila for bottling and distribution, making its way to bottle stores around the world, and enjoyed!

This post first appeared in SA Chef Magazine in April 2020

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