Americans spirits consumers have become naturally conditioned to think of “rum” primarily as a Caribbean product. This association is a result both of reality (almost all Caribbean nations produce famous rum brands) and effective marketing, which seized on rum as a symbol of island nations such as Jamaica, Barbados and Cuba. A product like Puerto Rico’s Bacardi is often regarded as the most recognizable rum brand in the world.
In reality, though, rum is produced all over—in the U.S., all throughout Central and South America (and as similar spirits such as cachaca), and in Asia as well. In fact, The Philippines in particular represents one of the world’s largest rum markets, and they produce what is actually the biggest rum brand in the world in terms of total sales, Tanduay. It simply isn’t common in the West, so much in the same way that the most consumed beer brands in the world are actually cheap Chinese lagers, Filipino rum tends to be overlooked here.
I will readily admit that this has been the case for me personally as well—I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a Filipino rum brand until this moment. That brand is Kasama Small Batch Rum, which, from reading its specs, I expected to be a fairly standard, moderately aged rum. Suffice to say, I was wrong. I expected something familiar, with a different nation on the label, but what I actually got was something much more unique and strange.
Kasama Rum is a product from second-generation spirits entrepreneur Alexandra Dorda, the scion of the Polish family (she also has Filipino heritage) that years ago created Belvedere Vodka and Chopin Vodka. It’s distilled and aged in the Philippines before being shipped to Poland and bottled at Dorda’s family distillery, for sale in the U.S. market. Per Dorda: “It is very special to connect the three countries that I am from in this unique way.”
Looking solely at the statistics of what is in the bottle, Kasama really doesn’t seem like it would be particularly unusual. This is column-distilled rum, aged for 7 years in American ex-bourbon casks. Very standard stuff. The fermentables are more unique, however—Kasama is distilled from fermented Noble sugarcane juice (the original sugarcane species, native to southeast Asia) rather than molasses, meaning it has a bit more in common with French Caribbean rhum agricole or Haitian rum than it does with classic, molasses-based Caribbean rums, at least in terms of production. In terms of flavor, however, Kasama honestly doesn’t remind me of either of those comparisons. It is aged tropically in the Philippines for 7 years in ex-bourbon American oak.
Now, let’s finally get to the head-scratching profile of Kasama.
On the nose, it’s immediately clear that this is something odd and different. There’s an intense vanilla character immediately on the nose, ratcheted up in assertiveness to the level where it’s presenting floral “vanilla petals”-type fragrance, combined with massive notes of pineapple juice, citrus and candy-like sweetness. The nose is extremely bright, and the word “piercing” comes to mind, with big elements of tart lemon, pineapple, banana and coconut. I’m reminded of nothing so much as the smell of a roll of SweeTarts candy, with the intensity of these notes conveying a somewhat artificial impression.
On the palate, the hugely fruity profile continues, along with the intense, somewhat artificial seeming vanilla—it’s like opening a can of pineapple juice and adding a spoon of vanilla extract. There are additional notes of toffee, florals and citrus, but I can’t get back the sheer intensity of the pineapple. This rum, in fact, tastes more distinctly like pineapple than many of the literal “pineapple rums” I’ve tasted over the years. It’s correspondingly tart, feeling more acidic than your average rum, while being relatively thin of body—which is to be expected with the column distillation and merely 40% ABV (80 proof). What we’re left with is a rummy enigma unlike anything I’ve tasted before.
I can only conclude that these vivacious but sometimes overwhelming flavors are at least partially a product of the country’s varietal sugarcane juice, which I have never experienced before. The terroir of a Caribbean island such as Martinique is obviously a major player in the flavor of rhum agricole produced via Martinique cane juice, but the comparisons really stop there. Although a Martinique rhum agricole often possesses some similar bright fruitiness, those notes are typically balanced by earthiness, funkiness and more herbal impressions. Here, in this Filipino rum, the bright fruitiness has been cranked up in terms of intensity without that kind of savory balance. I think this rum ultimately comes off as needing some other balancing element that isn’t present, although I will readily admit just how interesting and novel this is. This rum could perhaps simply be used in place of “pineapple rum” in recipes that call for it, with great results. I honestly don’t know! Tasting it has thrown me for a loop, and I’m still not sure what to think of it.
Reasonably priced at around $30 for a decently aged product, Kasama Rum is cheap enough for you to investigate for yourself, if its unique fruitiness piques your interest.
Source: The Philippines
Style: Aged rum
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $30 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.