Back in October last year, my brother and I found ourselves chilling out in Manila, catching up with our old friend Art, who’d left London a couple of years ago. Whilst reminiscing over past good times and playing with one of my favourite cats ever (hello Fanta!), Art popped into the kitchen for a moment, re-emerging with a squat bottle filled with a rich, red-brown liquid.
“Dude, have you met Don Papa yet?”
My eyes lit up with excitement: I’d heard of this Don Papa previously on the Twitter grapevine, and now I had the opportunity to meet him in the flesh. Oh, I was giddy.
As a bit of background, Don Papa was one of the noms de guerre of Papa Isio, a revolutionary who fought against both the Spanish and the Americans during the tumultuous and ultimately unsuccessful Filipino wars of independence. Like many revolutionary leaders of the time, he came to a rather unfortunate end at the hands of the American conquerors.
But, for our purposes, Don Papa is also the name of the Philippines’ first premium small batch rum, made in the foothills of Mount Kanlaon on Negros Island. Given that the Philippines is awash with sugar and there are a large numbers of rums swilling around the country (including a good favourite of mine and staple of The Adobros Supper Club when we have it, Tanduay), this is rather surprising.
According to their blurb, Don Papa is aged in oak barrels for a good seven years before it’s blended and distributed, which means that this brainchild of Englishman Stephen Carroll has been a long time in the making.
And you can certainly tell that it makes a difference. Being used to the simple and cheap pleasures of Tanduay (best enjoyed with Coke or ginger beer, with a twist of calamansi), I really wasn’t ready for the much richer and more developed flavours brought to the table by the Don.
As soon as you pop that cork open and take a sniff, you are hit with smooth and delectable hints of vanilla. This velvety flavour really comes out when you have Don Papa on the rocks – something that I, as a relatively uncultured rum drinker, would never have done before. But, when added to Coke, you have a most amazing alcoholic vanilla Coke combination, all without the horrid cloyingness of actual Vanilla Coke. That night was a good one!
My brother and I were so enamoured of the Don that we just had to take a bottle back home with us. But every time we enjoyed a drop, it was always done so with a bittersweet feeling deep within: without a place to buy Don Papa in London, our joy would be ephemeral, like tears in the rain. Such sad times and disappointment awaited us…
Some months later, again word trickled along the Twitter grapevine concerning Don Papa, namely that this rum would finally be coming to London, with a glitzy launch lined up in May. This was très exciting…!
So, after getting our invites through the post, we made our way to Trailer Happiness on Portobello Road, the home of the Notting Hill Rum Club and hence the perfect place to be the unofficial UK HQ of the Don. Upon descending the steps into the darkened and moody cellar, we were introduced to Stephen, who welcomed us heartily and directed us straight to the bar where three different cocktails utilising Don Papa awaited us. Straight to the point!
And so, how does one enjoy Don Papa? In many ways, eh! The three on the night are below:
Don Papa Old-Fashioned
Don Papa Julep
I think the Old-Fashioned was the best of the bunch, and as it was free flow all night (who thought that’d be good on a Tuesday night!?), we were certainly able to enjoy a large number of fine cocktails crafted by the talented bartenders at Trailer Happiness, who all seemed to be really enjoying themselves (see here about my views on becoming a bartender).
All in all, it was a fun-and-booze-filled night that gave the Don a grand welcome to this country. Judging from the fact that all of the goodie bags had been rifled through for the small giveaway bottles (whoever you are, I AM COMING FOR YOU), I think that the crowd of foodies, drinkies, industry types, trade professionals and everyone else very much enjoyed drinking Don Papa in its many incarnations. Or, at the very least, everyone just got really hammered.
All of this makes me very happy. As a promoter of all good things Filipino, I am DAMN excited by the idea that a product of such quality and character is gracing the UK and showing off a great side of the Philippines. I really want to see this Filipino product become a best-seller in this country and would happily develop cirrhosis if that would help the cause.
And so, if you want to actually boost the Don’s standing in this country without my having to resort to liver damage, I believe that you can buy it in Harvey Nichols, The Whisky Exchange and elsewhere. And, if you are being extra nice, you can send me a little commission payment too, you know, for the referral. Because we’re all friends here, right?
Currently listening to: Taken by Cars – December 2 Chapter VII