16 March 2022
An interview with Luca Gargano to learn more about Velier’s new project, a tribute to the ancient tradition of rum blenders – Papalin, “the tropical dependent bottler”
What is the Papalin project?
The idea is based on our desire to go back in the history of rum to the late 1800s, when Jamaican traders began to make blends, i.e., mixtures of rums from different distilleries. Take Myers’s and John Wray Nephew: in addition to selling rum casks and exporting them to Europe, they also produced their own blends – never specifying the distilleries of origin. Then, over the last seventy years, we’ve seen an increasing number of brands of European-produced blends like for example Negrita, with mixtures made by European blenders. Then in the seventies individual distilleries began selling their own products, and as a result tropical blends have slowly and gradually disappeared. In light of all these changes, the goal of the Papalin project is to bring back the ancient tradition of rum blends.
What is the idea behind the project?
The basic idea is to blend rums made in a single island and entirely produced and aged at the respective distilleries. Our first release focuses on Jamaica and is called Papalin Jamaica. In the old days – that is, the days of Myers’s and John Wray Nephew – labels did not specify the distilleries of origin, in fact the composition of the blends was kept completely secret. But I have no secrets, so although I’m following the original tradition of not indicating the distilleries of origin on labels, I can openly say my first blend was made from Hampden and Worthy Park rums, both aged at least 7 years. Of course, the secret I do keep is the ratio of the different rums I use.
So is Papalin Jamaica to be the first of a line of blends?
I’d like to make one edition for each island. The next one I plan to make is Papalin Haiti. The project is about creating each blend with original products, mainly pot still rums but others as well, because when I go to Martinique, I will of course be looking for agricultural rums. After Jamaica, the next editions featuring other islands will have the same name and label, the only difference being the colors and of course the name of the island. We’ll only go where we can – for example, in some islands it may be difficult to find distilleries willing to give up some of their rum to make a blend; other islands only have one distillery, like Saint Lucia. Our goal is to create reasonably priced blends and offer everyone the opportunity to enjoy authentic rum, the product of savoir-faire and careful cask selection for a journey through different flavor profiles. Today there is an increasing preference for single-variety spirits – as we know, blended whisky is generally considered less premium than single malt. But that’s not always true: for example, Compass Box makes high-quality blends to create products that are more complex and well-rounded in flavor.
What does “tropical dependent bottler” mean?
Richard Seale once called me a “dependent bottler “, meaning that unlike “independent” bottlers, I depend directly on distilleries. We are actually co-bottlers: I’m responsible for selecting the casks, packaging and ABV, but the rums are authentic products, strictly “tropical-aged” and bottled at the distillery where they’re made – official bottlings for which Velier is the sole official distributor. For Papalin, we are a “tropical dependent bottler” because the project follows the same principles.
How did you come up with the name “Papalin”?
It’s the name of one of the first blends I made back in 2012. I made it up from a little song I used to sing to my daughter Emily, who was born around that time. This is a different project, and maybe the name is a bit too Spanish-sounding, but my partners insisted we use it for our new project and I was happy to agree.