Visiting Brugal

by Matt Robold on November 9, 2009

Post image for Visiting Brugal

A few weeks ago I left the cozy confines of the Anaheim Resort to travel to the Dominican Republic to visit with Brugal.  While there I toured their distillery, their blending and aging warehouses, and spent some time talking with representatives of the brand, including two of their Maestros Roneros.

Brugal was founded by Andrés Brugal Montaner in 1888 in the town of Puerto Plata on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.  Brugal originally emigrated from Spain to Cuba, where he spent time learning the craft of making rum before relocating to the Dominican Republic.  Since that time, Brugal has grown to become the third largest producer of rum in the world, ranking behind only the Puerto Rican brands, Bacardi and Captain Morgan.

You wouldn’t know that by looking at the shelves in the US.  While Brugal is the best selling rum in the Dominican Republic and very well known in the Caribbean and Europe, for whatever reason it hasn’t quite cracked into the American consciousness yet.  But Brugal is working to change that, and this year introduced the American market to its Extra Viejo product.

The Brugal rums are a line of rums made in what is often referred to as the Puerto Rican or Latin American style.  They are double-distilled and very light-bodied.  They are characterized a clean, smooth flavors and are usually enjoyed in the Dominican Republic with Coke or 7-Up.  Brugal’s rums include a wonderful white rum, as well as a gold, the Viejo, and the newly available (in the US) Extra Viejo.  Of course, if you’re in the Dominican Republic you can also probably find yourself a bottle of the Siglo de Oro.

Brugals Column Stills

Brugal's Column Stills

Brugal’s distillery sits on the southern side of the island, in San Pedro de Macoris.  There they ferment molasses made from locally grown sugar cane and then distill the resulting molasses wine into rum.  Once the rum is distilled, tanker trucks are filled with the clean distillate and it is sent to the north side of the island, to Puerto Plata, where the aging, blending, and bottling operations are housed.

Tours are available for the public to see how Brugal’s bottling operation works, along with glimpses of their aging warehouses.  I was lucky enough to be part of a special tour that took us through the different warehouses to see the barrels (used Jack Daniels casks) full of rum of various ages, all color-coded to allow the employees to easily identify how old any given barrel’s contents are.

Barrels are color-coded by age

Barrels are color-coded by age

Brugal is currently experimenting with different types of wood casks as they look for more ways to create unique, quality spirits.  Our tour was treated to a taste of one of their latest experiments with Sherry casks.  Brugal is currently experimenting with aging rum solely in sherry casks, as well as a mixture of time in oak and then time in sherry.

Gustavo Ortega discusses Brugals experiments with non-oak casks

Gustavo Ortega discusses Brugal's experiments with non-oak casks

According to Gustavo Ortega Z. Brugal, one of the company’s Maestros Roneros, the company and family are working to find new approaches that can be blended with the long-standing traditions of making rum in the Dominican Republic without sacrificing quality:

Using our family’s five generations of experience, we have always strive[n] to find ways of refining the taste of our rum.  As such, we are currently testing different types of wood in our casks to better understand how this may add different characteristics of colour, aroma and taste to our rums, and how this wood reacts to our Caribbean climate.

Maestro Ronero Guillermo Abbot Brugal leads us in a tasting of Ron Brugals line of rums

Maestro Ronero Guillermo Abbot Brugal leads us in a tasting of Ron Brugal's line of rums

Following our time in the hot and humid warehouses (the perfect climate for aging rum but not necessarily for keeping a person’s shirt very clean), we were led back into air conditioned confines and treated to a tasting of Brugal’s different rums.  The highlight of the tasting was easily the family’s private blend, Ron Brugal Papá Andrés, named for the company’s founder.  A blend of rums from 8 to 15 years old – the same blend used for Siglo de oro – is recasked after blending and then left in the barrel “until the family wants to bottle more,” according to Gustavo.

Attempts to convince the family to let me take some home for research purposes were thwarted, meaning my only hope for a decent supply is to try and marry into the family.

{ 11 comments }

Adam November 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Very cool, Matt. I’m sure your hosts would not have brought it up, but did you get any sense of Brugal’s level of involvement with the “problematic” sugar trade in the DR? (If this is something you have any interest in?)

Matt Robold November 9, 2009 at 1:05 pm

The sugar trade, itself, wasn’t really discussed while we were there beyond the fact that Brugal’s molasses is all made from Dominican sugar cane. The manufacture using only local sugar sources is somewhat rare in the rum trade. But to your question, no, they didn’t go into any detail about the sugar trade.

Karen November 10, 2009 at 12:35 am

Bravo Matt!

Steven November 10, 2009 at 8:21 am

Hi Matt,
Oh yes, what a wonderful relaxing vacation I had in the DR back in 95. Drank Brugal rum cocktails the whole time, even see it now on the local store shelves here in upstate NY.
Thanks for bringing back such fond memories!

Adam November 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

Cool, thanks Matt. While I’m usually all in favor of using local sources, the situation with the cane plantations in the DR is really terrible. Brugal makes a great product — it would be awesome if they would step forward and do something proactive about the plight of the workers. (Check out The Price of Sugar for more details; good NYT review here.

Yoav November 10, 2009 at 6:42 pm

How do we know you were really there? Not a single photo of you in the DR! Really!
I know stock photography when I see it. Now fess up!

Arctic Wolf November 10, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Hi Matt
Great article. I was recently talking to an importer in my area who is planning to bring in some Brugal. He makes the claim that Brugal makes the rum used by Matusalem in their three products, Platino, Classico, and Gran reserva. I noticed in your Gran Reserva review that you seem to confirm that the Matusalem is made from rum actually distilled in the Dominican. My sources however seem to point in a slightly different direction. I have been led to believe by credible sources that Matusalem is actually a mix of off island rums which are blended in the Dominican free trade zone so it may be technically called “Dominican” but really isn’t. Since you were there talking with the Brugal people, maybe you can clarify for me whether they are the distillers of the rums which go into Matusalem, or whether my credible friend is on to something.

Kevin (Cocktail Enthusiast) November 10, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Sounds like an amazing experience. I’m a fan of Brugal and am glad to see some distribution in the states. The Extra Viejo is a great deal for a very decent, versatile rum.

forrest November 11, 2009 at 7:27 am

Awesome article– think i’ll pick some Brugal up and re-read it–it’ll be like being there…

Matt Robold November 11, 2009 at 7:36 am

Adam: Thanks for the info. This is something I’ll definitely be looking into and covering in the future.

Yoav: Don’t hate me because I’m awesome. Well, actually, that’s a pretty good reason. Go right on ahead. ;)

Arctic Wolf: Matusalem is not distilled by Brugal. In fact one of the Brugal execs from Spain mentioned that he had just barely heard of Matusalem the week before I got there. Matusalem’s country of origin is a bit hazy. My understanding is that it is distilled in the Free Trade zone and not in the DR proper, though these sorts of distinctions can get a bit confusing. At the moment I believe only Brugal and Barcelo have distillation operations working outside of the FTZs in the Dominican Republic – and I’m not 100% sure on Barcelo.

Arctic Wolf November 11, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Thanks Matt.

Your information is in line which what my sources have told me. I also know that the importer I have been talking to is not all that credible, which is in a way, far more important information.

Great work!

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