“Every man is as Heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse.”
—The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel Cervantes
Not only has the famous, fanciful, fictional knight-errant engendered the word “quixotic” (unrealistic idealism), but gave his name to DonQ, the smooth rum produced by Destilería Serrallés near Ponce, Puerto Rico. The distillery was founded in 1865 and is currently run by Felix Juan Serrallés, Jr., a sixth-generation owner.
Although DonQ is the best-selling rum in Puerto Rico, their global sales fall behind Bacardi, which is headquartered in Cuba but distills in the Commonwealth.
Ron DonQ has been tilting against the giants in the rum industry, Bacardi and Captain Morgan, with a marketing lance tipped with a new spiced rum called BlackBeard. Time will tell if DonQ is attacking windmills or not.
Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane and distillation techniques to the Caribbean on his second voyage. The plant thrived in the hot climate, and each island developed its own method of distilling the sweet spirit. Explorers didn’t get rich from gold, but liquid gold, rum, was nearly as profitable. The Puerto Rican style of rum making is the most common, used on the Spanish-speaking islands and representing more than half the rums we drink. This process features a light, balanced use of molasses, which is created from granulated sugar production. The English isles, like Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, rely on a heavier reflection and taste of molasses. Both Spanish and English types are also called “Rhum industriale”. French rums, or “rhum agricole” (agricultural rum) distills pure sugar cane juice instead of the dark treacly boiled extracts of crushed cane, molasses. The result is a sharper, fruiter tang. Distillation processes vary between countries, as do the aging times in the barrels, giving rums their many color and flavors.
One of the problems with this ancient process is the creation of mosto, a nutrient-rich byproduct of fermentation and distillation. A study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1979 determined that mosto discharge was adversely affecting oxygen necessary for marine life in the Caribbean. As a commonwealth of the UNited States, Puerto Rico had an obligation to follow EPA standards. Leading the charge is Roberto Serrallés, DonQ’s Vice President, who graduated from the University of Oregon with a PhD in Environmental Sciences. He transformed the company to maximize sustainability and protect the ecology of their native home. A complete explanation of their industry-leading recycling and waste reclamation efforts are detailed here. Their hope is to “green” the practices of the other rum producers. It’s evident from tasting DonQ that ecological responsibility has done nothing to diminish the quality of their product.
Don Q Cristal (clear, unaged) has a light nose and taste, with a mild burn and touch of tingle. Mixed into a daiquiri (2 oz DonQ Cristal, ½ oz lime juice, ¾ oz raw sugar syrup), the rum falls to the back of the citrus and sugar, which increases the danger of having too many, too fast. Cristal is only 80 proof, but a stealthy 80 proof.
BlackBeard Spiced Rum (86 proof) has a big vanilla punch plus a few slaps of nutmeg and cinnamon. The nose on it is almost like a birthday cake. On the palate, the candy flavor hangs on longer than the gut-warming effect of alcohol. A few early adopters of BlackBeard at a top rum bar in Los Angeles weren’t fans, but sweet-tooths should give it a try. Beware, BlackBeard will affect almost anything else you have afterwards. Pair it with a burly ginger beer and a little lime for a robust Black & Stormy.
Check out the slideshow on the left for more cocktail recipes, including results from the DonQ/USBG Ultimate Mix Off.
Both DonQ and BlackBeard are low-to-medium priced, as most rums are, and available at Southland liquor stores such as Beverage Warehouse in Culver City.
Disclosure: A 750ml bottle of DonQ Cristal and BlackBeard were comped to me. ARRR!