“Life gets better with age, and so does rum!” says Master Blender Jaiker Soto about why Don Q adds small quantities of solera Rums aged up to 55 years to their Gran Reserva XO. The Puerto Rican brand’s top shelf expression is a blend of Rums aged between nine and 12 years, but it is that touch of the extra old stuff that defines its character and shows why the brand has become synonymous with quality and consistency.
As we’ve said time and again over the past year, Rum is in the midst of a renaissance. But Don Q Gran Reserva XO is no newcomer. It has decades of history and dozens of medals, and it has always been made with the brand’s most exclusive Rums. While much of the market was busy making bottom shelf bottles for beach resorts better known for their wet t-shirt contests than the quality of their pours, Don Q Gran Reserva XO continued to set the standard for what to look for when choosing a Rum you actually want to sip and enjoy.
In this week’s Bottle Breakdown, we sat down with Destileria Serralles Master Blender Jaiker Soto to discuss the terroir, ingredients, and process that continue to make Don Q Gran Reserva XO one of the world’s favorite Rums.
Just to get started, what was your first experience with Rum? And how does that memory impact the way you view Don Q Reserva XO?
My history with rum starts right at the source. Before working with rum, I was an engineer for a sugarcane mill. During that time, I got a deep understanding of the very start of rum production. I was able to walk through the sugarcane fields, taste the flavorful juice, and begin learning the fermentation and distillation processes. Really, my move to rum was fueled by those experiences and a love of the liquid. Now, when I sip Don Q Gran Reserva XO, I feel like I can taste the whole process from the sweetness of the sugarcane molasses to the barreling oaky notes, not just the end result.
For those of us who are unaware, can you tell us about where Don Q gets its sugar cane and how the terroir can be found in the flavors and aromas of the Rum?
The origins of our raw material, the molasses, is from sugarcane sourced in The Caribbean and Central America, with the highest level of quality. The warm climate and salty air of Puerto Rico affect the aging of our rums — that constant warm weather results in an aroma of oaky, spiced and citrus fruits as well as tasting notes of tobacco and caramel. This also means our angel’s share is a little greater than that of spirits aged in colder temperatures. I hope they’re enjoying it as much as I do.
What kind of fermentation process does Don Q use and where do you get your water from?
We ferment using batch fermenters, where the sugar is literally “eaten” by our proprietary yeast. Our water source is very special and unique to Destilería Serrallés. A provision in The Treaty of Paris of 1898 granted the Serrallés family exclusive rights to the Río Inabón. This river, which winds through Puerto Rico’s volcanic mountains, is the exclusive water source for Don Q Rum.
Don Q Reserva XO is a blend of rums aged between nine and 12 years in American white oak barrels. Can you take us through a bit of the aging process and tell us how the addition of Solera rums aged up to 55 years impact the end result?
Aging mellows the spirit, giving us that smooth flavor that Don Q’s high-quality rums are known for. The addition of Solera rums aged up to 55 years imparts subtle oak nuances and hints of plums, raisins and dark chocolate notes that really help distinguish Gran Reserva XO’s award-winning flavor profile.
What makes the Solera process different from other types of aging?
Solera is a blending method that ensures a well-aged liquid ends up in the bottle while granting us the ability to maintain enough barrels of aging rums for future vintages. As a rum-maker, I can tell you that this process takes patience and the reward will be a consistency and balance in the rum profile! We know that the liquid we put into barrels today won’t be in a bottle for many years, but the payoff is worth it. People want to know that the Gran Reserva XO taste they love will be available the next time they order a drink or purchase a bottle. The Solera process helps us ensure we always have that drink waiting for them.
55 years feels like forever, how have those Rums managed to keep their flavors and how does that impact the flavor?
Life gets better with age, and so does rum! The intense aging serves two purposes for Don Q Gran Reserva XO. Older rums generally offer a sweet, mellow finish, as is the case here, and that extra time in barrels imparts little hints of oak and sherry that add to the dimensionality of the rum.
Don Q Reserva XO has been around for more than 25 years, but was previously known as Don Q Gran Añejo. Why did the company decide to change the name and what differences do you hope for it to convey?
Don Q Gran Reserva XO has decades of history and dozens of medals, and it has always been made with our most exclusive rums; we wanted a name and look that brings this history and quality to everyone who sees it. We’re proud that our new name and look demonstrate the superiority of the premium aged rum in each bottle.
How do you enjoy your Don Q Reserva XO and what do you recommend to pair with it?
I enjoy it any way it’s served, but my go-to is simply neat. If I’m in the mood for a cocktail, I love using it to make a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. It also pairs beautifully with cheese, chocolate and even lamb.
When you’re not drinking Don Q, what are you sipping on?
I like drinking spirits of all kinds. I enjoy tasting what other distilleries produce and how those distillers bring their knowledge and creativity to the liquid. I’ll also take a good cup of coffee if you’re offering!