Today I finally made it to the Brugal Rum Distillery. Heading into Puerto Plata from the direction of Sosua (or the Puerto Plata airport) the hard-to-miss facility lies on your right, sitting on the outskirts of town and between the main road and the sea.
The complex sees a small but steady trickle of visitors, mostly foreign tourists. Since it is on the tourist trail there are no dramas about getting in. The guards at the gate simply wave you in and point you towards a sign saying ‘visitors’.
Walking into the complex there is what appears to be a blending facility on your right. The aging is done off-site at another location in Puerto Plata. However, you may see trucks delivering barrels of rum to this blending area. I believe the stills were also in this part of the complex, though I was so busy looking at rum barrels I forgot to look out for them. Unfortunately you do not get to see what goes on inside this area on the standard tour.
The visitors center is basically a small bar and gift shop set beside the bottling plant. To get there you will also walk past the attached warehouse and loading zone where they fill delivery trucks for the local market and build pallets for loading into shipping containers for export.
Outside the visitors center is a map of the world, with little barrels showing the countries to which Brugal rum is exported. Given that Brugal has recently having been acquired by the U.K.’s Edrington Group (producers of Cutty Sark), the number of barrels on the map should soon be growing.
The garden contains a small display of antique sugar processing equipment.
The wooden mill is for extracting the sugar cane juice, and I believe the metal pot is for processing the juice into rock sugar and molasses. When I asked him, the guide explained the object as a pot for ‘producing molasses’. However, so far as I know the molasses would simply be a byproduct of sugar production, forming in the bottom of the pot as the sugar cane syrup reduces and finally solidifies.
Once a half dozen or so tourists have gathered a guide leads you through to a video room to watch a short video on rum production and Brugal. The video is only a couple of minutes long and is unlikely to tell you anything you do not already know. The gist of it is that rum is produced from molasses, the essence of sugar cane. Strangely they do not call molasses a waste product of sugar production. The video then goes on to claim that Brugal uses traditional but top-secret techniques to produce the purest rum in the world. The focus on purity reminded me of vodka marketing. The climax is a distinguished elderly gentleman nosing Brugal rum from a Martini glass. So the video is cool to see and all but there is not much substance to it.
The next stop in the tour is the bottling room.
This room is said to be able to produce 30-40 thousand bottles a day. They certainly looked busy.
After the bottling room the tour headed back outside to the bar and gift shop area. Everybody was offered a slushy made from the Brugal white rum, lime juice and a little mint. Concerned parents intervened to spoil their children’s fun. The mint was not overdone and the drink was quite tasty.
The guide then took a few moments to introduce the products as samples were offered. According to him, the overproof (151) is their only unaged rum, the Blanco is aged for two years (and presumably filtered to remove the color – though I forgot to confirm this), the Anejo for 4 years, and the Extra Viejo for 6 years. He skipped the Carta Dorado. I got distracted by other questions and forgot to call him up on this, but the fact that he skipped a product makes me wonder if his information on the Blanco was not wrong. The Carta Dorado is presumably aged longer than the Blanco but less than the Anejo. That would put the Carta Dorado at three years if he was right on the Blanco, or less if he was wrong.
While the other members of the group stormed the bar I asked the guide a few more questions. I wanted to ask about Siglo de Oro, and was also wondering why he had not mentioned the Carta Blanca (the straw colored rum I reviewed earlier and did not especially care for). Unfortunately, getting answers to my questions on these two matters led to me forgetting to ask why he had skipped the Carta Dorado, and whether the Blanco was really aged for two years and then had the color filtered out.
The guide seemed quite sure of himself when answering questions about Siglo de Oro. He said it was aged for 9 years, annual production was around 30 thousand bottles, and it was released in a staggered fashion during January, February and March. It should be available in the gift shop during those months for a little north of $40. I suspect the 30 thousand bottles figure is more accurate than the two thousand I mentioned earlier. If only two thousand were produced each year then how come I picked one up without too much difficulty?
Unfortunately, the guide got very confused when I asked him about the Carta Blanca. I could not see it for sale in the gift shop and wondered what the story was. First he said I must have simply seen the blanco with a different label. I knew this was not the case though. Luckily I happened to spot a bottle sitting in a display case. I pointed this bottle out to him so he would be clear exactly what I was talking about. It turned out that several Brugal products have been discontinued, and the case I was pointing at was the ‘discontinued products display’. Besides the Carta Blanca, this poignant little display contained two flavored rums (limon and passion fruit). I had been keeping an eye out for the passion fruit rum, but I guess I am not going to be tasting it after all. I have spotted the limon in one or two locations, so a little old stock is still out there.
The guide then filled me in with some interesting information about the history of the local rum market. He said that Brugal used to have more local competition, primarily from Barcelo and Bermudez. A family feud killed Bermudez as Brugal’s main competitor, while Barcelo became distracted by forays into the hotel industry. The lack of competition has allowed Brugal to dominate the local market since the early 1990s.
According to the guide you can get a more comprehensive tour of the facility by e-mailing in advance. I did e-mail but received no reply to my e-mail. The more comprehensive tour should include the distilling, blending and aging areas. He also mentioned something about a special blending facility for products destined for Italy, which may indicate that the Italian market gets a slightly different product range?
As I was leaving I asked the guide about some Macorix products I spotted waiting to be loaded into trucks. Supposedly Macorix is now produced under license by Brugal.