The Filipino Rum Company with a Global Cult Following

Photos by Karin E. Baker for The LA Beat.

Rum is having a moment. Premium rum is a quickly growing category, while Food & Wine’s latest cover boldly declares “Born to Rum.”

One of the more notable premium rums – “the fastest-growing super premium rum brand in the U.S.,” according to International Wines and Spirits Record – is Don Papa Small Batch Rum. A single-island rum that’s aged for 7 years, Don Papa is 100% created in the Philippines.

I met with Stephen Carroll, founder of Don Papa and former Remy Cointreau executive, on the rooftop at West Hollywood’s Petit Ermitage. Over sips of Don Papa, Carroll shared that his rum is making a global impact on the luxury rum market. “We launched in the Philippines in 2012, followed by Paris in 2013. We have a strong presence in Germany, the UK, Spain, and Italy, and we’re now growing in the US.”

Don Papa is created at the foot of an active volcano on the island of Negros, also known as Sugarlandia. A light amber rum, it’s made with local sugar cane that’s among the world’s finest. It’s aged in American oak barrels that once held bourbon, then finished in rioja casks.

Sugarlandia’s humid climate is similar to that of Jamaica. That humidity accentuates the flavor imparted by the oak barrels, lending vanilla notes to Don Papa and resulting in a smooth luxury rum with lightly sweet and fruity elements. Featuring hints of honey and caramel, this 40 proof rum is very smooth and sippable.

The inspiration for Don Papa was known as Papa Isio. A Filipino sugar cane farmer, “he was a true advocate for the working man,” says Carroll. A rebel and a spiritual leader, Isio encouraged the locals in their fight for liberation from Spanish authority during the 1890s.

Don Papa enjoys a cult following in Europe. “There’s a biker gang in Corsica that’s obsessed with Don Papa, and many French fans are tattooed with the image from the Don Papa bottle,” says Carroll. “A lot of French nurses are big fans of Don Papa. There are many Don Papa obsessives in the Czech Republic.”

You’ll understand why this rum has inspired multiple tattoos once you see the beautiful bottle that houses Don Papa. The label’s iconography includes images of Papa Isio himself, along with a tarsier (a tiny monkey-like primate), a gecko, snail, slug, and more. The striking packaging has won awards at the Paris Cocktail Spirits Show and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Don Papa co-founder and managing director Andrew Garcia told me, “My favorite way to drink it is simple: on the rocks. It’s also great in daiquiris, in an Old Fashioned, and a Sazerac. In the Philippines, people love it in a boilermaker, with tonic water and a chile added.”

Carroll and Garcia also shared Don Papa 10 with me. Aged an additional three years in re-charred American oak barrels, Don Papa 10 is another treasure. At 43 proof, it’s bolder darker, smoother, and not as sweet.

Don Papa can be enjoyed in some of Los Angeles’ best bars, including the Formosa, Shutters by the Sea, Conservatory, Broken Shaker, Saso, The Brig, Wabi on Rose, and Yamashiro.

If you’d prefer to make a Don Papa cocktail at home – the bottle makes an undeniably gorgeous addition to anyone’s home bar – you can purchase it for around $39 at local retailers including Wally’s, Vendome, Pink Dot, Booze & Brews, Robert Burns Wines, and BevMo.

Like Garcia, my favorite way to drink Don Papa is on the rocks, over one large ice cube. It also mixes well. See below for a couple of recipes that go well with this premium Filipino rum. Cheers!

Manila Mai Tai
1.5 oz. Don Papa Rum
1.5 oz. mango puree
Juice of ½ lime
1 dash orgeat syrup
Method: In a shaker, squeeze the juice of half a lime. Add a dash of orgeat syrup, the Don Papa rum and mango puree. Shake vigorously.

1.5 oz. Don Papa Rum
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice
0.6 oz. agave syrup
Method: Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a serving glass.

Karin E. Baker

About Karin E. Baker

Karin E. Baker is a native Angeleno who loves the eateries, history, nature, architecture, and art of her hometown. When not exploring poke shacks in Kona, tascas in Córdoba, and konditoris in Malmö, she writes about food, culture, lifestyle and travel. She obsesses over comma usage and classic films and is always happy to find an excuse to open a bottle of champagne.
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