I sit out on the veranda of the Gaston plantation in Silay, a cocktail in one hand while reciting lines from Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata—which shot a number of its iconic scenes in this very house—with a newfound friend. It all feels very antebellum, as if I left the 21st century and find myself in an enclave where siesta time is still observed and fields of sugarcane roll out through the land, as far as the eye can see. When we run out of lines from Oro, we start pretending to be Scarlett in Gone with the Wind.
But there is no Rhett here, just a lovely Don Papa, whose smooth flavor, mixed with citrus and soda, made for a very pleasant afternoon’s drinking. I’m soon introduced to Monsignor Gigi Gaston, the current resident of this beautiful hacienda. We talk of his childhood, of growing up in a home-turned-Philippine landmark, of riding the around in the steam engine train where field workers would place the freshly-cut stalks of sugarcane for transportation during the harvest season. We talk about Beethoven and Mozart and merienda is served—homemade pastries, both savory and sweet. Everything is a humid, languid memory and I once again think of how I was definitely born in the wrong century. I snap my fan open and walk back to the bar, where an affable Frenchman is making the drinks. Four cocktails later, as the sun begins to set, we bid this plantation goodbye. As we take our shuttle back to the hotel, one of my companions, a German distributor of Don Papa, waxes lyrical on the beauty of the bottle design, the smoothness of the rum, and how he can’t seem to keep shelves in Germany from running out of this small-batch brand.
I am the kind of Filipino who always brings presents whenever I go traveling, and Don Papa is like a friend that I happily and proudly introduce to both Filipinos and foreigners living abroad. Don Papa becomes a welcome and sought-after addition to any home I introduce it to, so much so that I cringe whenever a friend will request a bottle for me to bring whenever I visit, restrictive airline weight allowances being the main source of my consternation. Most of my Scandinavian friends find their Don Papa bottles in Germany. Those who reside in the U.K. procure bottles from France. My best friend in California, however, has to wait for my visit before she can get her hands on a bottle. Today I e-mailed her simply to announce that Don Papa will be available in the U.S., starting this month. While these coveted bottles of Don Papa are mainly to be found in the East Coast (Massachusetts and New York, in particular), it will soon be available in other states.
Don Papa is more than just rum, it is Negrense history distilled into liquor. Lovely, lovely, dark liquor that echoes the sugar plantations from where it originates. This is probably why Don Papa makes such an indelible mark on foreign markets.