Drink

Nine Years Since It Was Launched, Filipino Rum Brand Don Papa Is Conquering the World

Don Papa is the little rum brand that could.
IMAGE DON PAPA

When a ragtag group of entrepreneurs introduced Don Papa rum in 2012, there were no expectations about where the experiment would go. The name sounded exotic and the branding and packaging were certainly visually striking and unique, but the product itself was the focus. It was rum made locally, but of such elevated quality that it would hopefully appeal even to non-Filipinos. 

Fast-forward nine years and Don Papa has risen to heights none of the founders had ever dreamed of.

Don Papa Port Casks is the brand's newest limited edition variant

Photo by Don Papa.

“We have certainly exceeded even our own modest expectations,” Andrew Garcia, co-founder and managing director of Don Papa told Esquire Philippines. “From a business plan on a bit of paper to becoming one of the fastest-growing rum brands in the world, Don Papa has come a very long way since we launched back in 2012.”

Garcia and his colleagues invited a group of writers and journalists to a special virtual event one day last week. It was to introduce a new, limited edition and super premium version called Don Papa Port Casks. But I was curious about the company’s journey so far.

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“The brand started out with our core Don Papa and launched in the Philippines,” Garcia said. “From that point, we quickly drew interest from a few western European markets such as France and Italy. The demand snowballed from there as we saw how effective a pan-European approach worked from the onset, and in short order, this part of the world became a significant part of our business.” 

Don Papa worked with acclaimed chef Victor Magsaysay for a special pairing dinner with the new Don Papa Poprt Casks

Photo by Don Papa.

Don Papa’s strategy was opposite that of other local businesses hoping to break into international markets. Its success in a few European markets eventually led to the brand gaining a foothold in key Asian cities such as Singapore and Tokyo. From there, the expansion to North America markets—all the three big countries of the continent (the U.S., Mexico, and Canada) followed from 2017 onwards.

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“To date, we are present in a number of markets and have bolstered our portfolio with a carefully planned new product development program, resulting in the production and subsequent release of our super-premium range of products,” Garcia says. 

The co-founder says Don Papa is now present in 36 countries, including France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. The brand passed the 2 million bottle mark across our portfolio as of end-2020. The number is tiny when you compare it with giant spirits companies also based in the Philippines, but the company isn’t really going for quantity at this point. At least, not yet.

And while the pandemic has decimated most other industries, there are a handful that have managed weather and even thrive during the crisis, alcoholic beverages being one of them.

“Fortunately for us as a brand, there were still customers out there that still wanted to enjoy a drink or two, even from the safe confines of home,” Garcia says. “Our brand has always been a fairly resilient retail brand and that was even more evident during the pandemic, growing in tandem with the emergence of ecommerce.”

The new Don Papa Port Casks commemorates the 500th anniversary of Magellan's landing in the Philippines

Photo by Don Papa.
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One clear proof is the launch of its newest expression. Consistent with its roots of attaching a story to its product, Don Papa’s Port Casks rum has one, too: it’s being launched on the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s landing in the Philippines. If you’ve ever encountered a Don Papa product (and there’s no reason you haven’t yet at this point), this newest iteration of the spirit comes in packaging covered in surrealist designs, which the brand says reflects different aspects of Magellan and his crew’s own adventures to completely sail around the world.

The rum itself was aged two years in ex bourbon casks before being transferred into Port Casks for an additional five years. The result is what the Don Papa team calls an “intensely full-bodied expression…with deep notes of licorice, polished oak, dark chocolate and muscovado sugar, followed by zesty blood oranges, ripe red berries and a subtle note of fresh vanilla.”

It’s tough not to draw parallels between Magellan’s odyssey and Don Papa’s own journey to introduce a taste of the Philippines to the world. And the fact that it’s being embraced in different corners across the globe today only proves just how far it has come when it set sail as a company all those years ago.

“We are today very proud to be the fastest-growing premium rum brand on the market, “Garcia says. “Though we have reached a point we could never have imagined so many years ago, the Don Papa team continues to do what we do best: continue brand building, creative products people love, and having as much fun as we can along the way.”

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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