SelvaRey Cacao Rum 35% Alc/Vol., available in 750ml
SelvaRey White Rum 40% Alc/Vol., available in 750ml
Panama is known as the gateway between North and South America, and yet it’s a world unto itself. The capital bustles with world-class restaurants, casinos and shopping.
Panama City’s thriving banking sector has earned it the nickname “the Dubai of Central America”. Twenty-four hours a day, ships the size of small towns pass through the Panama Canal, one of the greatest triumphs in engineering history. And yet Panama’s Colonial heritage can still be found in the cobblestone streets that line the alleys between skyscrapers. 15th century ruins rest among five-star hotels. The real magic of Panama, however, is created 4 hours outside of the city in the province of Herrera, where SelvaRey’s distillery rises from the fields of sugarcane.
We scoured the world to find a distiller who was up to the challenge of creating a white rum that was fine enough to drink on the rocks. In the span of two years, we sampled variations made in California, Guyana, Jamaica, Mauritius, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Trinidad, and Amsterdam. Although we tried a lot of decent tasting rums, nothing fulfilled our mission.
THEN WE FOUND PANCHO.
Don “Pancho” Francisco Fernandez of Panama is arguably the most respected master blender in the world – the man behind many award-winning aged dark rums. However, he’d grown nostalgic for the great white rums of his youth. And like most geniuses, he was an experimenter at heart who always had an eye toward the future. Coincidentally, he’d recently dipped into his aging warehouse and had been playing around with roasted cacao infusions.
Don Pancho was born in Cuba in 1938. His first job was cutting sugarcane in the fields alongside his father. Don Pancho’s “golden nose” set him apart from all the other cañeros and he eventually worked his way up to become the Cuban Minister of Rum. Settling into an enviable position as a member of the Cuban elite, he fell in love with a woman from Panama and decided to move and build his own distillery from scratch in a small town called Pesé in the Herrera Province – Panama’s premier sugarcane region. He bought a warehouse on the outskirts of Panama City, and began stocking it with barrels of rum perfected by a lifetime of distilling.
In the small town of Pesé grows the world’s best sugarcane. Cane needs plenty of heat and rain, and Pesé is blessed with both. The region enjoys downpour nine months out of the year and a tropical heat that kills off the pests that plague other fields. Its volcanic soil has the ideal levels of acidity, helping to neutralize and purify the rainwater. This combination of climate and geology creates fruitful land and the richest cane. That’s where the finest rum starts.
To create molasses:
1. Sugarcane is washed.
2. Cane passes through rollers and juice is collected.
3. Juice is allowed to settle and solids go to the bottom.
4. Pump the cleared juice to the boiler.
5. Juice boils until crystals start forming.
6. Crystals are removed. This is raw sugar. What’s left is molasses.
7. As the molasses is cooked, it goes from grade A to grade D–blackstrap.
As the ash content of the molasses goes up, the amount of fermentable sugars goes down. The lower the grade of molasses, the more nutrients and yeast must be added to make fermentation happen. Don Pancho uses grade A molasses.
The molasses is transferred to the fermentation tanks and yeast is added.
The strain of yeast used is a very important and underrated component of what goes into the taste of rum. Stressed yeast, when the alcoholic content is too high, the mash is too hot, or the molasses lacks nutrients, releases nasty flavors.
Don Pancho selects a yeast that’s perfectly suited for his cane, the water, and the Ph. This is a natural yeast derived from pineapple. It converts the fermentable sugars in the mash to alcohol.
From the fermented molasses, you want to get the “heart” or pure ethanol. The most volatile alcohol and thus the first distillate that comes out when heating the mash is the “heads.” This contains esters and aldehydes. The last alcohols to evaporate are the “tails.” The heart comes in between. But you want just the smallest touch of heads and tails since heads have notes of floral, banana, and herbs, and the tails have notes of pears, apples, and guava. It is much easier to capture the “heart” in a column still.
SelvaRey uses four copper column stills built in 1922 by American Copper & Brass Works, which impart a soft, subtly citrus flavor. They also heat to a higher temperature than steel and thus eliminate impurities without needing to over distill. They had to be adapted to the environment and Don Pancho’s method. There are no other stills in the world like these.
The raw distillate, or aguardiente, is transferred to American White oak barrels, which were previously used to age bourbon. Through the magical interaction with the wood, the aguardiente mellows into rum and acquires creamy notes of vanilla and caramel.
SelvaRey White’s complexity comes from the fact that it is made up of more than a single batch of rum. From his warehouse, Don Pancho chooses a 3 year-old for its youth and vibrancy, and then combines it with a rich, full bodied, more mature 5 year-old. A true master blender, much like a chef, creates his recipes by hand-selecting a variety of premium ingredients and balancing them perfectly.
Water is added to bring SelvaRey White down to 40% ABV and Selvarey Cacao to 35% ABV. Panama is famous for having the purest water in Latin America. Its pristine crispiness has garnered it the nickname “The Champagne of the Chagres”.