Dominican Republic’s Brugal & Co. was founded by Don Andrés Brugal Montaner in 1888 and Jassil Villanueva is part of the latest generation to become involved in the family rum business. She was kind enough to agree to my invite and spare some time to talk to Inside the Cask.
Inside the Cask: Hi Jassil, you are a Maestra Ronera (Master of Rum or Master Blender) at Brugal in the Dominican Republic, representing the 5th generation of family involvement and the first female to be appointed to the role. However how did it all start for you? Where did the interest in rum and also the family business initially come from?
I’ve always had a passion for rum, and I was surrounded by it through my family, so I joined the business after my studies. The Maestros noticed I had an exceptional talent for picking out notes and flavours, so the 4th Generation began to teach and train me. Once I had learnt the skills passed down through our generations and proven my ability, I was made Brugal and the Dominican Republic’s first-ever Maestra Ronera.
Maestros Roneros is the name given to Brugal’s Master Rum Makers, traditionally a role that has been passed down through the generations of Brugal family.
Inside the Cask: Most people will have no idea of the work involved in making Rum, so what is the experience like and what does it entail on a day to day basis for you?
As a Master Rum Maker, I am involved in all aspects of the rum making process but most of my focus and work is within the Ageing and Formulation of Brugal.
Quality cask and wood is so important for the development of Brugal rum’s flavour so overseeing this and inspecting quality is a key part of my role. This also includes developing new products and experimenting with new casks, which is my favourite part of the role. Leading the development of new products and trying to create new flavours through the combinations of casks and blends is a really rewarding part of the job.
Day to day, the Maestros Roneros are exclusively responsible for the final formulation and approval of each and every rum to ensure quality and consistency. As Brugal’s flavour is achieved through cask ageing, time and nature can shape and influence the flavour development of each barrel. On one hand this helps make our product so complex and adds greatly to its flavour, but on the other hand, as a Master Rum Maker, it is a challenge to consistently add all these different outputs together to ensure a consistent, quality experience from bottle to bottle, year after year.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about the Brugal company and its history? Any recent developments at the distillery or at the company?
Brugal was created in 1888, by Don Andres Brugal Montaner through his vision, passion, dedication, and hard work. Originally from Spain, Papa Andres moved to the Caribbean where he had an idea: to perfect the art of rum-making.
Our founder Andres Brugal was drawn to the promise of the Dominican Republic. He saw the potential in connecting the different parts of the rum making process in his own unique way to create Brugal’s complex, yet smoother style of rum.
Over 130 years and 5 generations later, Brugal is still crafting rum from the highest quality ingredients sourced directly in the Dominican Republic to create the purest, light and clean spirit. It is this spirit that is then aged in handpicked, high quality casks that have the potential to add the right character to our rum as it is tropically aged under the Dominican sun.
With this rich legacy in rum production and the interest and desired for premium rum growing globally, Brugal has continued to grow and is now available for consumers to enjoy in approximately 70 countries around the world.
Inside the Cask: What type of Rum are you producing at Brugal? What is unique about it and what are you looking to produce to release in the future?
In our Brugal rums, I would say the key characteristics of our rum are the inimitable quality, the sophisticated woodiness and our well-balanced flavours. These are a result of many essential details, such as: the quality and purity of our unique spirit, the water from the springs in Puerto Plata, the unique climate of the region, our capacity to accommodate a great number of high quality casks in our ageing warehouses and the skills and expertise passed down through five generations of Brugal family Maestros Roneros – secrets that are to this day still kept in the hands of the family rum masters.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about the premium Brugal 1888 release? I still remember my trip to the Dominican Republic when I first tasted it and then launching it into Duty Free at the Orlando IAADFS Show…
Brugal 1888 is double-aged using Bourbon casks and Sherry casks to create a complex yet perfectly balanced sipping rum that evolves in the glass or elevates classic stirred cocktails.
After 2008, our Master Rum Makers started experimenting with different wood types and Brugal 1888 is a result of this wood and cask exploration. It created a perfect super-premium sipping rum that introduce Brugal to new consumers as the interest and appreciation of the beauty and intricacies of rum continues to grow all over the world.
The first maturation in bourbon American oak casks (between 6 to 8 years) adds a woody dryness, with distinctive caramel, vanilla, coffee, and toffee notes on the nose. This is beautifully balanced during a second maturation in sherry Spanish oak casks (aged for a further 4 to 6 years). This adds a roundness and slight sweetness on the nose, with notes of red and dried fruits to taste. Brugal 1888 uses Oloroso Sherry casks in its production – one of the most expensive cask types in the spirit industry. While the maturation process can take up to 14 years, this varies depending on many factors such as the casks and the climate so Brugal 1888 is aged to taste.
It is our Maestros Roneros’ skill and expertise that determine precisely when each cask is of the right quality and flavour profile to be used within the 1888 product.
Brugal 1888 is the perfect rum to sip and enjoy neat, however it is also the ideal base for classic stirred cocktails and I really enjoy it in an Old-Fashioned, a Negroni or Manhattan because of the depth of flavour achieved through the double cask ageing.
Inside the Cask: As a Master Blender, any advice for the rest of us on how we can improve our sensorial experience, such as our palate for tasting spirits such as rum?
The best way to train your palate is to walk through life with your sense of smell and taste in the forefront. Start with the things you enjoy and experience in your day-to-day life – coffee, tea, fruit, chocolate, nuts, spices. Take a moment to notice and appreciate the aromas and flavours. Once you are confident with these everyday flavours, start exploring flavours from other countries and cultures to broaden and expand your ‘library’.
Inside the Cask: What is your favourite drink and why?
Our “Don Nano Favourite” cocktail with Brugal 1888 and a coconut water iceball. It is inspired by 4th Generation Maestro Ronero Don Fernando “Nano” José Ortega Brugal’s favourite way to drink Brugal. The coconut water pairs perfectly with the prominent wood influence in Brugal 1888 to deliver a simple yet mouth-watering serve that is slightly sweetened and perfect before dinner. Once the ice begins to melt the sweetness comes through and it’s basically a variation of an Old-Fashioned.
Inside the Cask: What would be your advice for anyone else wanting to work in the drinks industry?
The drinks industry, and the rum category, is such an interesting, exciting and diverse industry. From spirit distillation to ageing techniques and blending expertise there is so much work and detail that goes into creating each unique rum. Each producer connects the different parts of the rum making process in their own unique way, and so many teams and people are involved from production, packaging, commercial, marketing, hospitality or ambassadorial work. There are so many ways you can get involved.
For me, one of the best ways to get to into spirits or rum is to understand what part of the process you are really passionate about and get involved as much as you can and demonstrate your passion for the industry.
One of the easiest and most fun ways to get involved and learn about the industry is through a rum tasting. This will allow you to fully experience each rum and fall in love with the world behind each bottle.
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job? Anything that you would like to share that not many people would know about you?
Working in the world of rum cultivates an environment of happiness and celebration. It is the perfect drink to share joyful moments and create memories with loved ones. Being Rum Master has filled my life with travel, friends, and unforgettable experiences. At Brugal we strive to create great products that people will love, resulting in high quality distillates that are admired worldwide.
So, when I see someone that admires the Dominican Republic or knows about it being the country of Brugal Rum, I feel an indescribable pride. This is what I love about making our rum – sharing it with others.
About me? Well, I love enjoying free time with my family, a walk in the beach with my son, seeing my nephews to get ice cream, sharing a Brugal with my husband or a good conversation with my parents. I enjoy traveling, learning about new cultures, and having a good time with the special people in my life.